KINGSFORD - Before the start of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, a Kingsford girl raced for the gold at the Extremity Games, held in various cities across Southeast Michigan.
The Extremity Games provide athletes with limb loss or limb difference a chance to showcase their skills in extreme sports including BMX, kayaking, motocross, mountain biking, rock climbing, skateboarding, surfing, and wakeboarding.
Kelly Allen, 16, has been competing in the kayaking and rock climbing contests for the past three years and finally brought home a gold medal and a $1,000 prize for kayaking at the 2008 event.
The event was held at Pontiac Lake Recreational Area in Waterford. Kayakers claimed that fierce wind made the races increasingly difficult as the day progressed, but Allen breezed across the finish line ahead of the competition.
"The training really helped; my technique really improved from last year," Allen said in reference to her kayaking skills. She even beat some of the male competitors in the first heat of the race.
She finished just out of medal range in the rock climbing competition this year, an event in which she took silver medal honors last year.
"The competition was really tough this year," Allen said.
Although her parents are proud of their daughter's achievements, they cannot help but worry while they watch her in action.
"It's hard to watch, you get so nervous especially when she's fifty feet up on the rock wall lunging for the next grip," said Allen's mother Barb.
According to the Extremity Games website, the number of athletes in the games continues to grow each year. Competitors from as far away as Belgium make the trek to the United States each year to take part in the action.
After last year's games, Allen started on an impressive training regimen, working with Olympic kayaker Brent Reese and local fitness guru Kelly Bianco.
"She also trains with her dad, kayaking on Lake Antoine," said her father Dr. John Allen.
As for rock climbing, Allen trains at the climbing walls at Florence High School and Northern Michigan University. She has also traveled to the Planet Rock training center in Pontiac.
Allen's sponsor, prosthetic company Wright and Fillipis, has been a key supporter of her training and competition.
"Kelly is part of Amputeam, a group of athletes with limb loss that compete in extreme sports," explained Dr. Allen. The company fits Amputeam with prosthetics modified for athletic events and organizes training camps with experts.
Right now, Allen is looking forward to going back to Kingsford High School in the fall and participating on the tennis and ski teams.
She says that the best part of the Extremity Games is meeting so many other people with similar stories and interests. Born with a rare disorder called Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency, she had met few people with the same condition before she started competing in the games.
"We share stories and advice about equipment and everyone feels a connection," Allen said.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.