Kelly grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and joined the US Navy as a corpsman at the age of 25 in 2004. She deployed aboard the Mercy hospital ship in 2008 and spent time in Okinawa, Japan, but her most harrowing experiences occurred during a six-month deployment to FOB Jackson in Sangin, Afghanistan, from 2010-2011.
Kelly served as an LPO and the only female corpsman in a shock trauma team with 3/5 (3rd Battalion 5th Marines) where she helped treat 91 patients. “The first patient we saw was a double amputee, a Marine, and when you see that in training versus real life; seeing it, smelling it, treating it for real, it’s actually very different,” Kelly said. “So all the training that we had, I felt that it didn’t prepare me for what it was going to be like. We saw a number of patients with eviscerated bowels, most of them were amputees, and some KIAs that we cleaned up and put in a bodybag and got them ready for one of their last flights home.”
Kelly described the dynamics of coping through the hard days. “It was very lonely being the only female there, at least one other female would have been nice, but my guys were really good and they were there when I needed them. Plus all the work kept me distracted when I was out there.” Once stateside, the feelings of depression, anxiety, and the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress rushed in and it was very difficult for Kelly to handle it all. Two friends from OASIS (Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support), introduced Kelly to One More Wave, where she began her journey to surf therapy.
Kelly’s first time surfing was just last year in May 2018 at the Balboa clinic and the first time she caught a wave she said there was no going back. “There is no other feeling I can’t really describe it,” an expression all surfers say at first. Kelly describes the difference between the foam board she learned to surf on and her custom board from One More Wave, “I feel like Kelly Slater and can catch any wave. When you’re out on the water it’s kind of calming and takes away all the anxiety and everyday troubles you’re going through. It’s not out there with you; you just feel calm, cool, and collected.”
“Then when you catch a wave, especially when you’re on the top of the wave and you’re dropping down into the wave it’s an adrenaline rush. Then when you’re riding the wave down the line it’s fun and as I am still learning the turns there is joy and excitement that it brings. Especially when I catch a wave with someone else, like a party wave, that’s a lot of fun because everyone is just hooting and hollering.”
Kelly loves to draw and excels at drawing dragons, so she put in a request to have her very own drawings on her customized surfboard. “I drew two dragons; one for the front and one for the back,” Kelly said. “On the front it has a face for a dragon and has one of my favorite quotes on it: ‘Courage is like a dragon with a gift in its mouth, tame the dragon and the gift is yours.’”
“On the back of the board, I have a dragon eating a shark,” she laughed. “I also have the shark repellant design with the black and white stripes that’s supposed to deter the shark from eating your board. Even the color scheme, from black to purple to blue, it’s badass! They made it so the nose angles up which helps me catch the waves. It’s super thick too, which helps me float and it’s really wide so I feel stable on it.”
Kelly enjoys surfing 3-4 times a week and has plans to get into the Health & Wellness career field once she medically retires from the Navy on September 27, 2019. She hopes to earn her masters in Exercise Physiology to help people with mental illnesses or physical disabilities and get them out into the environment.
“I want to teach people how to surf, how to stand up paddle-board, how to kayak, and get them back out into the world,” she said. “A problem for me too, I shut myself in and I didn’t hang out with anybody, I didn’t talk to anybody, and that’s where all the dark thoughts came from. I had tried to take my life and in order to prevent that within other people, it’s to show them that they are suffering and struggling but there's a light at the end of the tunnel and we can help get you there.”
Follow Kelly’s journey to surf therapy on her Instagram: @make.it.happen22
Author: matt fratus