Keeping her eyes on the prize

Kelly Wright poses with her awards Aug. 3 after winning the Open Women’s Physique competition at the National Physique Committee Knox Classic.

An impossible dream became reality for Kelly Wright this month when she placed first overall in the National Physique Committee Knox Classic for women 45 and over.

Although Wright’s journey has been relatively short, it certainly has not been easy.

“I started about a year ago, and I was like, ‘All right, I found something I wanted to do getting back into the gym and working out’,” she said. “About six months into it, I started working out at Planet Fitness. I just had people coming to me and saying, ‘You look like you’re ready for a show.’ At that point, I was like ‘You know, maybe. I would like to’.”

Wright searched for a trainer, but was unable to find a good fit until approached by a friend with the right connection.

“I had a friend by the name of Greg Wexell say to me, ‘I have a friend, and he would love to train you. Just give him your time’,” she said. “He was out of the field for like 10 years because he got MS in his leg, so anyhow, I gave him an opportunity. We went from there and hit it off.”

Wright began working with Dave Rider for several months and developed her body in ways she never thought possible.

“He really just showed me a lot about what the bodybuilding industry is all about,” she said. “I put in four to six hours a day training in the gym. I started training, and it was just amazing. I was seeing major results. He got me onto doing protein, CLA — things to help my genetics.”

Then tragedy struck seven weeks before the Knox Classic when Rider suffered a stroke, which affected his ability to move and speak.

“It really dumbfounded me,” Wright said. “I really didn’t know what to believe. I thought, ‘This is not the time to have this’.”

After dealing with a serious thyroid disease, this was just another step along Wright’s journey to becoming the athlete she is today.

“I was already diagnosed with a thyroid disease before all this started three years ago,” she said. “I started running. I was told from the doctors, ‘You will never lose weight.’ I was 125 pounds from the go, which is a little bit for my frame. At that age, I was almost 49 years old. With that being said, that’s when I decided to change my tune into the gym. I went to an endocrinologist and he said, ‘Whatever you’re doing, it’s amazing’.”

Upon hearing the news of Rider’s stroke and Wright’s battle with her disease, Joe Laxton, a personal trainer in Iowa, was inspired to take her on as his newest client.

Laxton took a brief moment to peruse Wright’s social media accounts and was immediately sold on her muscular physique and personality.

“Greg just reached out to me and asked me if I coached and trained people remotely, which I’m like, ‘Yeah, even a lot of my local athletes, I don’t see a couple of weeks anyways’,” Laxton said. “You never know about first-time competitors and with it being six weeks away from the show. ... She looked great. She’s already done the work.”

Laxton sent Wright multiple workouts and exercises to perform on her own, which was something she admits was a challenge.

However, fellow gym members rallied around and helped when needed.

“I didn’t know how it was going to work being out of state,” Wright said. “I thought, ‘Oh my word.’ He checked on me regularly, he would send me all kinds of exercises and I would come to the gym every single day. It was very hard to push yourself. You have no trainer, no accountability, except over phone, no one spotting you ... but it was amazing how I saw the community come together around me and rally, ‘Kelly, don’t give up. If you need a spotter, we’re here. If you need anything.’ It was just amazing how I was loved on. So many people stepped up.”

Wright continued to push her body to the limits, even to the point of almost being hospitalized just before the show.

“I had to learn how to water deplete myself,” she said. “The week before the show, I almost passed out here at Gold’s Gym. I work outside a lot, and Joe was like, ‘Stop what you’re doing.’ They wanted to make sure I was OK here because my body was doing a shut down of everything. I almost thought I was going to have to end up in the emergency room, I thought my kidneys shut down. I had actually suffered a heat stroke.”

All of her hard work eventually paid off when she was crowned the overall champion Aug. 3 in the Open Women’s division at the Knox Classic.

Laxton also competed in the show on the men’s side, but was ecstatic to see Wright win the first competition of her career.

“I think she always questioned whether she was ready or not, and then, of course, she went out and killed it,” Laxton said. “I’m a national competitor and I’ve won some shows, but it’s always so much better seeing your athletes win. To me, it’s awesome. I get more excited about my athletes winning, especially with her. I know she wanted to win. I coach a lot of people, and it was so obvious with her.”

More importantly, Wright’s story has become an inspiration for fellow female bodybuilders and competitors.

“I had people coming to me saying, ‘Please don’t leave. My daughter, my son wants to take a picture with you’,” she said. “I just thought, ‘What? People are coming to me and asking me for pictures? I’m not anything special.’ I just can’t describe to you the feeling that I got that just came over me. I remember one girl, as we were coming back from the hotel, I hear, ‘Kelly, Kelly. Are you Kelly? Let me say something to you. I sat out in the morning show, and I watched you. Your poise and your smile made other people smile. I just want to tell you that. You lit up the room’.”

Wright plans to compete in her second show Aug. 24 in the NPC Kentucky Open.