MAIZE, Kan. (KSNW) – Arkansas City native Kelsey Stewart always knew that she wanted to be an Olympian. Softball, the sport that she would one day represent the country playing, came into her life on accident.
“There was just one team in town when we stayed in Ark City that needed a player, so it was like, ‘OK, let’s go play,'” said Chris Stewart, her father. “We spent a long time doing gymnastics, and then she didn’t want to do that anymore.”
Stewart would go on to play high school softball at Maize High School and win two National Championships with the University of Florida, where she was named the 2015 SEC Player of The Year.
“My hope is that I can just inspire one or two girls to play this sport and for it to take them the places it’s taken me and give them the opportunities that I’ve gotten,” Stewart said.
This summer, Stewart will represent the Sunflower State as one of two Black women on the US National Softball Team at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I’m representing a Black woman that can reach the highest peak and really push forward despite all of the different bumps in the road,” she said. “Softball is one of those sports where you don’t have to be a certain size. You can be whatever shape, whatever size, whatever color. I think our team does a great job representing that.”
As one of the few Kansans on Team USA, Stewart hopes to inspire other athletes from small towns to follow their dreams.
“It’s opening so many doors for people who didn’t think it was possible or didn’t think that you can come from a small town and make it big. I think that’s what really pushes me to find that drive every day.”
Stewart’s Olympic dreams were put on hold when Tokyo 2020 was postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our world kind of got rocked a little bit,” said Stewart. “It was super hard because your teammates are the people you grind with, you cry with, you sweat with, you bleed with. We had to find different ways to push each other, being in different states. To finally be back in-person, it’s like a family reunion.”
Throughout the pandemic, Stewart set her focus on helping Wichita’s youth through her organization, Blitz Softball, which she started with her dad.
“Our mission is really to have little girls fall in love with this game and for it to affect their lives like it has me and my dad’s,” she said. “I’ve got to travel the world doing what I love, so if I can just help five little girls out where they love this sport and this sport, and it’s something they can dive into, and it changes their life, I think we did our job.”
Team USA picked back up as a full team in June.
“It’s a lot of fun, but at the same time, it’s a lot of work.”
While Stewart admits she is nervous headed into the Summer Olympics, she is sure her competitive nature will guide her.
“I’ll find this fire inside of me that cannot be denied, like, I need that gold medal,” she said.
Stewart leaves for Tokyo on July 2, where her childhood dream will come to life.
“Representing the United States, it’s honestly something you can’t even put into words,” she said. “To wear USA across your chest is something different. It just kind of means a little more.”