Reflections from Rio: Kelsey Card reflects on Olympics
By Eric Becker
Carlinville native Kelsey Card spent the past weekend back in her native county, where she won multiple high school state championships in the shot put and discus.
Earlier this summer, she won the NCAA Division I discus title. Oh yeah, she also just recently got back from the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero.
She was grand marshal of the Carlinville Lions’ Club parade Friday night, and was recognized on Saturday evening with a special event, where she was given a box of Wheaties with her photo on the box.
She reflected on her past triumphs and looked ahead what might be on the horizon in the future during a recent interview.
“It was a very amazing experience on a bunch of different fronts,” Card said. “For me, the most exciting part was getting to see and meet all the other incredible athletes.”
Card competed for Team USA in the discus on Aug. 15, where she would place 25th overall, which was the top finisher amongst the Americans. She would leave from Houston to Rio after the team processing was complete.
Card decided to leave at the very end of the team processing which worked out great, she said.
“It worked out really nice to be able to travel with everybody,” Card said. “There was a huge group of us that left straight from Houston. Coming back was nice too, because there was a bunch of us coming back right after closing (ceremonies). Flying wasn’t an issue.”
While some athletes didn’t stay at the Olympic Village while at the Games, Card said she was glad for the opportunity to do so.
“It was really fun to be in that environment,” Card said. “It wasn’t anything super fancy but you don’t really need that. It was kind of nice to bond with your teammates. I got a lot of exercise. Just to be surrounded by all the other cultures, the countries to get that taste of Brazil even in the village and everything was amazing.”
She really didn’t see much of the countryside of Brazil, but did attend other Olympic events and said the beaches there were incredible.
“Our training facility was right on the water and it was gorgeous,” she said.
Card participated in both the opening and closing ceremonies, both unique experiences for the Olympic athlete. In the opening ceremonies she was not too far behind the carrier of the Olympic flag, Michael Phelps, decorated Olympic swimmer.
But she did say there was a problem.
“I was actually nervous because my jacket had split down the back,” Card said. “One of my friends and I linked arms and stayed together the whole time. Opening (ceremonies) was cool because it was all of USA walking in together. It was fun to see the other countries in their outfits. Closing (ceremonies) was cool too because it was just everybody walking in together. Both sides were cool.”
What was crazy about the opening ceremonies? “Just to walk in and know that the whole world is watching – that was crazy. Don’t be awkward.”
Her parents, Tom and Andrea Card, her brother Daniel, a junior at CHS and fiancée Andrew Bartsch and his parents were in attendance, not for the opening ceremonies, but to see her compete at Olympic Stadium. They came a couple of days before she competed and left a couple days afterwards. Her music teacher, at CHS, Mr. Wold, also attended the games.
“It was really comforting (to have them there),” Card said. “It was hard in the beginning when I had no one that I was close to. But when my coach got there, I started feeling better and I got to see my family a little bit before I competed and that made me feel really good. While the world was watching, at the actual location I had people cheering for me.”
She said she is fortunate that her family got to experience Card’s Olympic debut. “They got to do a lot of the sightseeing stuff.
She said the competition itself was a bit unlike what she has experienced with all the cameras right there in front of the discus pit.
“I wasn’t necessarily nervous, I was a little jittery and excited, but I only think that’s normal going into a situation like that for the first time,” Card said.
She had a distance of 185-feet-one inch. It wasn’t as far as she would have liked, as she did have a 208-foot-effort to win the NCAA Division I championships in June. But still, for her first Olympic experience, a thrill.
“I didn’t get the distance or the place result that I wanted, but I learned a lot,” Card said. “I’m trying to take those positives and override the negative feelings that I have about my performance.”
From 2011 graduating at CHS to 2016 graduating at the University of Wisconsin, Card feels the experience has been tremendous.
“Coming out of high school, I felt very academically prepared that’s for sure,” Card said. “The hardest thing, other than being away from home, was going down from being a three-sport athlete to a one-sport athlete. I had ups and downs, but for the most part, things have gone generally upward as far as training.”
She plans on staying in Madison, Wisc., finding a part-time job and continue to train with coach Dave Astrauskas.
“The facilities, the rest of the coaching staff, our sports medicine staff are incredible. It was a really good package deal,” Card said.
Graduating college on an Olympic year was beneficial as well.
“That first year out of college is really hard for a lot of athletes,” Card said. “It was nice to come out on that sort of competition level. The timing was nice.”
World championships for next year is something that Card can start preparing for, although right now she has some time off from her athletics.
“I’ll get back mid to-late October probably (training),” Card said. “I’m looking for some sort of a part-time job, because as much as I love throwing, it doesn’t really pay to be a female thrower in this country.”
Next year, there will collegiate meets but Card can compete as a professional at the meets and she hopes to go oversees and compete at some of the bigger meets.
“If you do well there, you can make a little bit of money here and there,” Card said.
She will also look into participating in the U.S. Championships next summer, trying to qualify for the World Championships in London next summer. The next Olympics, in 2020, are in Tokyo, but she is trying not to jump too far ahead.
“I’m trying to take things year by year,” Card said. “I understand how long four years are. I hope I’m still feeling good at an elite level. I just can’t jump ahead too far. It’s nice because you still have those big international meets in between now and the Olympics. It’s nice for goal setting.”
A lot of Card’s Olympic friends and competitors are from bigger cities, but she is blessed to have the support of the folks in Macoupin County and Carlinville.
“They are mind-blown by the following and backing I have,” Card said. “There are people all over the country, all over the world that are following me because they have some connection to Carlinville. It’s really cool and humbling to know that so many people care and are supportive. Those people make it special.”
Card started throwing discus in fifth grade. But she didn’t start competing until seventh grade.
“We could go out for track in sixth grade, but I wasn’t allowed to because I got a B in math or something,” Card said.
But once she was allowed, her athletic prowless took over. Card’s father first taught Card how to throw, then Coach Dave Jokisch first taught her how to throw shot put. Sean Canaday, from Auburn, was Card’s throw coach through high school.
Shelly Wills, the current CHS track coach, “made everything happen,” Card said. “She is a great organizer.”
Astrauskas has been Card’s coach throughout college at the University of Wisconsin.
As far as those wishing to make an impact from a small town such as Carlinville, Card gave some advice.
“I feel like a lot of younger people don’t realize all of the resources available here in Carlinville,” Card said. “Sometimes you may have to seek it out and put some work in it, because it won’t just come to you. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with the help from those around you.”