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Pembroke’s Madeleine Kelly competing in Olympic Games in Tokyo

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday July 29, 2021

Coureurs de Bois alumna Madeleine Kelly is competing in the 2021 Olympics and will hit the Tokyo Olympic Stadium track on July 29 for round one.

The first-time Olympian hopes to bring home the gold in the 800 m dash, competing against the best of the best, which includes some of her personal heroes.

Before departing for Japan, the 25-year-old Pembroke native, now living in Hamilton, admitted that it all still felt a bit surreal to be chosen for Team Canada. If anything, it was a relief to have that certainty that she was going to the Olympics after all her hard work.

“I’ve been working for a very specific goal for a very long time,” said Kelly. “I’m really proud of my accomplishment but there is a part of me that is very glad that I have this year behind me.”

For most people, the past year was challenging. Add on training difficulties due to COVID-19 restrictions, the possible cancellation of the Olympics, and personal responsibilities, it was difficult to keep on track. But she managed to keep her head in the sport and her feet on the ground no matter what.

And it paid off.

Like many Olympians, she sacrificed much to earn a spot on Team Canada, particularly over the past six months. In addition to maintaining a disciplined lifestyle, training schedule, and diet, she also had to leave her beloved job as a Canadian Running magazine staff writer - though she does still freelance.

Despite being a Gold-medal hopeful, Kelly does try to ensure that she still has a life outside of running.
“I never want to feel like I’m resentful of what I’m doing,” said Kelly. “It is very important that I wake up in the morning and want to train hard. That’s how you train better.”

In a non-pandemic year, she would have said that getting to see Japan was the best part of going to the Olympics, but she and her fellow Olympians are sequestered due to severe restrictions. So all of her energy and focus is going towards that 800 m run.

She cannot wait to prove to herself that she can make it. Though she’s aiming to medal, she also hopes she can beat her personal best of 2:01.

An added difficulty is that Team Canada is spread out across the nation, so they haven’t gathered to train en masse before going to Tokyo. Kelly has been lucky to have a training partner, Kate Van Buskirk (women’s 5,000 m), to train with, and she has been glad to have the support and companionship.

Going to the Olympics was initially just a dream for Kelly, until two years ago when she won first place in the 2019 Canadian National Championships in Montreal, beating out such legends as Lindsey Butterworth and Melissa Bishop-Nriagu.

“That really changed things for me,” said Kelly.

Her love of running tentatively began in elementary school. She just started running for the sheer joy of going fast and feeling wind against her face. As her skills developed, she joined the Coureurs de Bois, a developmental running club based in the Ottawa Valley, where she built her fundamentals. She continued running while she pursued a degree in English at the University of Toronto.

Yet, she believes that there was no real indication that she would ever make it to this level of competition. 

“Running was something that I liked doing, but even more, I like the social aspect of it,” she admitted. “I really liked the people I trained with in high school and I loved my university team. They became some of my closest friends.”

Falling in love with running involved falling in love with the people who run. She has been supported by former and current coaches, teammates, friends, family members, and her boyfriend. Van Buskirk and her coach Terry Radchenko have been by her side for the past nine years, and her parents, Chris and Caroline Kelly, have been cheering her on since the start.

“I’m out there running but there are hundreds of people who got me here to the starting line,” said Kelly.
She was also thankful for her Coureurs de Bois Coach Rick Schroeder of Petawawa’s Valour JK-12 school, who helped shape her skills.

When not running, she loves to cook, write and be outside.