By Evan Wechman
Olivia Kelly is well known on the small island of Barbados. Her friends and fellow citizens are aware of her grace and poise on the gymnastics floor. However, Kelly, born in the Bronx and now residing in Mahwah is quickly garnering attention throughout New Jersey due to the 16-year-old’s phenomenal success.
Just several weeks ago, Kelly became the first gymnast to represent Barbados on the international level at the 2022 World Gymnastics Championship in Liverpool. “Worlds was an amazing experience that I will remember forever. I’m so excited that I got an opportunity to compete at this level for a country that I care so much about.”
Kelly maintains dual-citizenship due to her paternal grandfather being from Barbados. She feels at home in both countries. However, due to her family’s ties to the small island, she is competing internationally on behalf of Barbados.
The people in Barbados are in awe over what she has accomplished and even Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley recently tweeted “Congratulations to Olivia Kelly. Not only did Olivia make history today for Barbados by being our first gymnast to appear at a Worlds Gymnastics Championship, but she made her debut in stunning form. Congrats once again and keep up the good work.”
Kelly is starting to gain more clout in the United States since her last competition but knows she must remain focused on the future.
She plans to prepare and compete again at the same tournament being held in 2023 in Belgium. Also, on the horizon is the upcoming USA Women’s Development Program Level 10 season,
which will keep her in top shape as she continues to train for elite competitions including the Pan American Championships in Medellin, Colombia in May 2023.
However, she doesn’t intend on stopping there as she is focused on the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“My goal is still the 2024 Olympics and getting the international exposure,” says Kelly.
The aspiring Olympic star is being supported in her dreams by her coach at North Stars Gymnastics Academy in Boonton.
Kelly trains under the tutelage of Ashley Umberger who is a two-time U.S.A. Women’s Gymnastics Team member. Umberger also received a full academic scholarship where she competed for the University of Georgia.
Umberger shares Kelly’s goal of competing at the Olympics and says “she (Kelly) is the type of athlete that could do it.” She also says “to be able to coach an athlete at World’s is a gift in itself. All the athletes are so driven, talented, and poised. Olivia definitely fits in and belongs on the international stage.”
More importantly, the coach is amazed at the poise Kelly maintains while competing. “She’s got some of the highest skill level without a doubt. And I think she can handle the training and the competition. A lot of kids get on that international stage and it’s intimidating and more nerves than they can handle, but this is something she can do,” says Umberger.
Kelly, who is home schooled will be graduating in 2024. She is hoping for a scholarship as well, though she has not narrowed down which university she hopes to attend. She understands to compete at the highest collegiate level as well as the Olympics will require both time and dedication. She is fine with that as she spends almost all her time training, when not pursuing her studies. It is not uncommon to find her training 4 hours or more on a given day.
Kelly is working on sharpening her skills and increasing her endurance, which is critical to win at this level. She is a natural athlete and became a gymnast almost by accident.
Her mother was a cheerleading coach when Kelly was about 4 years old. Her mom noticed she was great at tumbling and her gymnastics development took off from that point. Both Kelly’s parents have athletic backgrounds and encourage their daughter to be the best gymnast she can be.
Kelly loves helping others in the North Jersey area hone their skills as well and is constantly cheering on her teammates. “I like the fact that gymnastics is an individual sport but doubles as a team sport.”