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The Women's Sports Alliance


Olivia Kelly – Beams, Barbadian Dreams, Gymnastic Goals, 'Storm' and Scoliosis

"When I was younger my aunt used to love giving me nicknames and she came up with 'Storm' because I reminded her of the X-Men character," Olivia Kelly tells the WSA. "I can create them (storms), but also calm them"

Image credits: Amy Sanderson / @olivia.storm.kelly

Think of Barbados and you will likely picture the breath-taking beaches and stunning sunsets, with the Caribbean Island nation – at least traditionally – better-known for sublime scenery than sporting successes.

From an Olympic perspective only one Barbadian athlete has climbed onto the Olympic podium – Obadele Thompson, who claimed 100m bronze at Sydney 2000 – while no female has ever competed at a Games in gymnastics.

Olivia Kelly is a young gymnast with a dream to change that unwanted record.

In 2022 she took an important step, becoming the first female gymnast from Barbados to compete at the senior World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

It made her a ‘history-maker’ and this year she returned for the latest edition to take on the good and great of the sport once more, but Olivia is targeting more than individual honours and titles.

“My biggest goal is to be the best gymnast and person I can be and inspire kids in Barbados,” Olivia Kelly tells the Women’s Sports Alliance.

Image credits: @olivia.storm.kelly

“When I go to Barbados and to the clubs and see these little girls looking up to me it can sometimes make me a bit nervous because I don’t want to let them down, but the idea of inspiring kids just pushes me through it.

“Competing for Barbados and showing kids what I can do is exciting but I hope that by being out there and giving gymnastics in Barbados that recognition it might help them financially so they can keep doing what they love and accomplish their dreams.”

The 'inspiration' was once the 'inspired' herself

Image credits: @olivia.storm.kelly

Olivia was first introduced to gymnastics during ‘Mommy and Me’ classes while growing up in New York, USA and also tried tumbling as well as cheerleading during her formative years.

She recalls watching the gymnastics action unfold on television during the London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics and feels that helped influence her ultimate career choice.

“Gabby Douglas (three-time USA Olympic champion) was a big inspiration for me when I was growing up and then there’s Ellie Black (multiple Commonwealth gold medallist) from Canada, who was also a big one,” the 17-year-old says.

“Ellie was actually training at the same time as me (at the 2023 World Championships) which was really cool, but also a real ‘pinch me’ moment because I never thought I’d make it this far.”

Image credits: Amy Sanderson / @olivia.storm.kelly

Although an American citizen, Olivia’s father’s father – her ‘grandpa’ – was born in Barbados.

After what Olivia describes as a “really long process” she was able to attain dual citizenship at the age of 15 and officially compete for the nation.

“It was a really big opportunity which kind of came out of nowhere, but at the same time I found a ‘vision board’ a few weeks ago that I’d made when I was nine which said I wanted to compete for Barbados, so I’d clearly thought about it before.

“Now to be doing it eight years later and at a World Championships is just amazing.”

And witnessing the return of USA’s four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles first hand?

“Ha, yeah there’s quite a buzz as well with Simone coming back in as well,” Olivia says with a smile.

“I saw her too which was really cool and she looks better than ever, so sometimes in training I’m just in awe of the best athletes in the world!”

A scoliosis diagnosis and a new treatment plan

Image credits: @olivia.storm.kelly

No athlete in history has enjoyed a problem-free journey to the summit of their sport, but Olivia has faced a challenge few would be able to combat while attempting to become an elite performer.

Last year she was officially diagnosed with scoliosis – a sideways curvature of the spine – after enduring chronic pain in her back throughout her childhood and early adolescence.

“I've always kind of had a little back pain, but it just really spiked up when I grew during COVID,” she reveals.

“Getting the scoliosis diagnosis was more of a mental setback than a physical setback as I’d been going through this my whole life basically, but it was almost a ‘breaking point’ because I did wonder if I’d be able to push through it.

“There's really nothing I can do as it’s not big enough where I have to get surgery, but like not small enough where it's not bothering me, so I just have to manage it.

“It does cause pain but my coach helps me manage it and I do acupuncture, physical therapy and massages, as well as home therapy to get things under control and that’s helped a lot this year.”

School, studies and the LA Olympics…?

Olivia has many reasons to be excited about her future and has already given a verbal commitment to the University of Missouri gymnastics team which she will join on a full athlete scholarship in 2024.

The Paris 2024 Olympics are likely to come too soon for the teenager, but she smiles when asked about the prospect of competing in the nation of her birth, for her adopted nation, come the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.

“Of course, I would love to make it to the Olympics, but sometimes when I thinking about that it all gets a little crazy and stressful,” Olivia tells the WSA.

“It’s always been on my mind since I was younger and it’s hard to explain, but I guess now I just want to focus on making it as far as I can, be the best gymnast I can and help inspire kids in Barbados along the way.”

Image credits: Amy Sanderson / @olivia.storm.kelly


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