Metro Detroit Olympian moved to motivate youngsters

Kelly Gunther of Clinton Township taking time off from training, sharing story to teach others to never give up

Kelly Gunther would change nothing about her life, not even the parts of it that were painful.

She believes everything she has been through has made her stronger and she shares that with whoever will listen.

Gunther saw her childhood dream to compete in the Olympics come true this past February in Sochi, Russia when she competed in the women's 1000 meter long-track speedskating race.

"I knew at 6 year old, pretty young, that I wanted to go to the Olympics," said Gunther.

The now 26-year-old from Clinton Township started in ice skates figure skating, but quickly moved to inline speedskating and spent much of her teenage years competing in roller skates.    She returned to the ice and began training in long track speedskating.   

Her speedskating career was going well until the final race of the season in 2010 when she crashed at the Olympic oval in Salt Lake City, Utah.

She suffered a double compound fracture and nearly lost her foot.

"I knew my ankle was broken. How bad it was? I had no idea," said Gunther. "The paramedics, I asked them if I was going to be able to skate again, and they were like, 'I don't think so, your foot's kind of hanging off your leg,' and I'm like, 'You know, I'm going to be OK.'"

"I always knew I was going to be OK, I knew I could go through surgery. I just also kept telling myself, you know somewhere else, someone's worse. Someone could be dying right now. I'm alive, I'm OK."

Gunther had surgery and then underwent intense rehabilitation at the Olympic Center in Colorado Springs. She said doctors didn't tell her until she was in the clear that they were worried her bone could have died and if it did they would have had to amputate her foot. She said she is glad they didn't tell her while she was coming back from the injury.

Though it might not have mattered, she didn't believe them when they said she would never skate competitively again.

"The doctors said yeah, I'd be able to skate again, but at the level that I was at, they said no way. So I just kind of never took no for an answer and just kept going for what I wanted to," said Gunther. "I always wanted to live my dream ever since I was 6 years old and I wanted to keep going."

Six months after her injury, Gunther got back into skates. In 2014 she qualified for the Winter Games in Sochi.

"The moral of the story is you just can't ever give up," said Gunther.

The injury has not been the only setback Gunther has encountered in her life.     She also struggled in school due to a learning disability.

"In middle school and high school and being in special ed just trying, just always trying to figure out you know why I couldn't be in the moral classes or why I couldn't do this or that," Gunther said.

Gunther graduated from Chippewa Valley High School and has only just started speaking publicly about her learning disability.   But she is happy to share her story now, because she is motivated to inspire others to overcome their own life obstacles.

"It means so much to me to give back and be able to tell my story," saying Gunther.

Since returning home from Sochi, Gunther has given several talks in Michigan and Ohio where she has family.

Local 4 caught up with Gunther during a visit to a group of girls participating in the Girls On The Run program.  In partnership with the YMCA, the program works with girls eight to 13 to train for a 5-kilometer race.

"It's so much more than just a running club because they focus on healthy eating habits, they talk about things that are going on in their life either at home or at school," said Jackie Kippen, Girls On The Run council director.

The group meets twice a week after school and the girls learn about self-esteem, positive body image, and how to make good decisions.

Kippen said girls from all walks of life can benefit from hearing Gunther's story.

"It was such an amazing story of believing in yourself and persevering and I think the girls are going to take away so much from this and I'm going to take away from it as well because it was so inspiring," said Kippen.  "These girls could be faced with so many things like being in a single family home or having disabilities and just knowing that there is somebody who is kind of dealt with the same challenges I'm dealing with and she did it and that gives me hope to do what I want to do and be what I want to be."

When Gunther met the girls she told them she would run with them.    She followed up on her promise and was there for their first 5-kilometer race in Ferndale this month.   

She held their hands on race day and ran with them across the finish line.

Gunther is taking a year off of training and using her time to speak to groups like this one about her experience.

"I've been knocked down pretty hard a couple of times but I made it to the Olympics, I made my dreams come true."

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