Sliding headfirst on an ice track at speeds up to 90 mph with only a small sled to carry her is Kellie Delka's ('11) idea of pure joy.
For more than a decade, she's been traveling across the world to compete in the sliding sport of skeleton. Most recently, the UNT alumna's global success has finally earned her the title of Olympian, a distinction she's dreamed of since childhood.
"It still doesn't feel real to me. Once I step off the plane in China then it's really going to hit me," says Delka, who will represent Puerto Rico as its sole competitor in women's skeleton for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Several years ago, Delka was offered the opportunity to move to Puerto Rico and help build up its winter sports federation. Being a one-woman show in Puerto Rico women's skeleton means Delka has more "control of her destiny." Paving her own way also means she has to find and pay for coaches, set up her own travel and lodging, and take care of other behind-the-scenes considerations that athletes in larger programs usually don't have to handle. Her parents even built a dry push track in the backyard of their home in Collinsville, a small town about 30 miles northeast of Denton, so she could train during visits.
While at UNT, Delka was a pole vaulter and part of the North Texas Cheerleaders. At that point, she had never heard of skeleton, and might not have even entered the sport if it wasn't for fellow UNT alum and Olympic bobsledder Johnny Quinn ('06).
As she was finishing up her bachelor's degree in kinesiology, Delka came across a social media post from Quinn about a combine in McKinney hosted by the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation. She showed up to give it a try and was catapulted toward a path in skeleton.
The sport can be mentally and physically taxing, but lots of fun, Delka says.
"I'm an adrenaline junkie and a fighter," Delka says. "I'm the crazy one who will take tons of runs in one day."
She is not one to take the path of least resistance either, favoring to gain her qualifying points on the World Cup tour with the higher-ranked competitors rather than snatching up points in the lower circuits.
Delka will arrive in Beijing as the No. 25-ranked women's skeleton qualifier in the world.
A December World Cup race in Sigulda, Latvia, helped "punch her ticket" to the Olympics. She placed a season-best 15th in that race.
"Getting top 15 in a World Cup race is a badge of honor," Delka says. "It really gave me a confidence boost the rest of the season. It's hard competition and when you finally prove to yourself that you do deserve to be here — that's an amazing feeling."
Delka will make her Olympic debut Feb. 11-12 at Yanqing National Sliding Centre.