As a sophomore in college, Kelly enlisted as an Army medic and served ten years with the 82nd Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Unit. She served three back-to-back deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. After that she was assigned to a special mission unit, and at the same time, she earned her degree in nursing from the University of North Carolina. After graduation, she moved to Texas and became an avid runner. In 2013 she took a break from running after experiencing pain in her lower left leg. After a round of tests, she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of soft tissue cancer. After several surgeries in an attempt to save her leg, she made the decision to have it amputated. Afterward, she began to try various adaptive sports like running, rowing, and swimming. She competed in the 2015 Los Angeles Marathon and the 2016 Boston Marathon in a racing wheelchair. Elmlinger’s first triathlon was three weeks before getting her first true running leg, after having the desire to get back into running and qualify for the USA Paratriathlon National Championships. Her favorite part of competing in triathlon is having the ability to represent the U.S. a second time, as well as camaraderie from teammates and competitors. She has carried many of the skills she gained through her military service into her competitive triathlon career, such as having the ability to be a jack-of-all-trades, having multiple different skills, and having the ability to stay calm under pressure. She enjoys framing competing in triathlons as something that is fun rather than being nervous about an outcome. She was named the 2018 USA Paratriathlon Developmental Athlete of the Year after winning the 2018 USA Paratriathlon National Championships in just her second triathlon since becoming an amputee. In 2021, she opened up the Paralympic year by winning back-to-back gold medals at the World Triathlon Para Series in Yokohama and Leeds. She then went on to win at the Americas Triathlon Para Championships in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. She raced in her first Paralympic showing at the 2020 Tokyo Games, where she placed seventh. She then ended the 2021 season by claiming her first World Champion title with a victory at the World Triathlon Para Championship in Abu Dhabi.

She has a daughter named Jayden who is her biggest motivator. She enjoys being able to shape her daughter’s perspective and teach her that people with disabilities are able to accomplish the same things as everyone else. Elmlinger’s biggest talent outside of triathlon is cooking, and if she could choose another career, she would open a food truck.

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