Sometimes fate dictates your path and that is the case of Emily Ellelaine Kelly. Just 16 years-old, she is the starting goalkeeper for Cayman’s National Under-17 football team that made history by reaching the final round of the CONCACAF U-17 tournament in 2010.
She was also the starting goalkeeper for the Cayman Islands National U-17 team in the Olympic Qualifiers in Antigua in 2007, when she was only 12. Through football, she received a partial scholarship to attend the Kimball Union Academy in New England.
The fates lead her to football when she was only 11 and attending St. Ignatius Catholic School. It was there that coach Bernie Bush saw her and told her parents, Rhonda and Kirt Kelly, that their daughter had a yen – plus the height and instincts – for being a goalkeeper.
With her looks, height and build, Kelly could have easily been a fashion model or basketball player. However, it was football that drew her in. She always liked sports and even tried out for track. While she was good at it, she found it lonesome, preferring instead to be part of a team.
Despite her youth, Kelly has earned numerous awards, including being named goalkeeper of the year for the 2007/08 U-15 league. To her credit, she has been part of the team that made Cayman’s first appearance in the Women’s World Cup or Olympic qualifying at any level.
How did they get there? The may have just scraped through – they lost to Haiti 1-0, beat the British Virgin Islands 13-0 and then came from behind to overcome the Bahamas 2-1.
This tied them with the Dominican Republic. The two-game play-offs with them ended 1-1 at home and 2-2 away, giving the Cayman Islands the win on away goals.
While the team was defeated in the final round they have the distinction of being the only football squad in the history of the Cayman Islands male or female to make it to the final round of any major football tournament – CONCACAF or Olympic.
Kelly’s performance at this level is among the reasons she has been selected by Merta Day, women’s sports coordinator for the Cayman Islands department of sports, to be on the list of outstanding sports women for Honouring Women’s Month.
“Emily has used her talent to benefit the Cayman Islands in the area of sports,” Day said. “For someone so young, she has demonstrated what it means to achieve through hard work and determination. This is a fantastic accomplishment on her part.”
Kelly describes the best moment in her life. “Without a doubt, this was the CONCACAF final round, when I travelled to Haiti with the U-17 national team. We played our last game of the tournament against Haiti.
The feeling was indescribable; the stadium was completely full and the home team fans were making as much noise throughout the game as you would hear in a professional game on television.
“It was amazing to see the level of support and love they have for the game,” she said. “This experience was important to me, because I realised how much this sport brings people together.
“Everyone in the stands really just wanted to see quality football and when we were playing well, we could hear them chanting and cheering for us.
“I know what it feels like to be on a team that loves and cares for each other and who has everyone’s backs, no matter what. Football has enabled me to travel to different places and experience new cultures, in different ways from a regular tourist.
It has also brought me to an amazing prep school extremely far from home, thus giving me the experience of a lifetime.”
She suggests that parents should encourage their daughters to participate in sports, especially team sports. “As corny as it may sound, sports teach you to win humbly and to lose gracefully. Playing a sport also ensures that determination and perseverance become habits, once you are committed.”
Furthermore, Kelly credits playing a team sport with helping her to gain more independence. “It has forced me – not in a bad way – to learn how to live without having my parents right behind me making sure I have everything in line.
“I learnt how to do things on my own and to develop self-discipline. I am eternally grateful for everything football has given me thus far, and God willing, for the many opportunities to come.”
She noted that there are several persons to thank for her success, including her parents and coaches Bobby McLaren, Thiago Cunha and Paul Campbell. “These people have had the biggest influence on my life. These three coaches were there to support me and were patient with me while I was developing my skills.
“They would wake up extra early and stay later than they had to, just to ensure that I improved. These three coaches sacrificed more than anyone could ever know to see that I succeeded.
“It all paid off and I’m now attending a wonderful prep school on a scholarship that happened because of my football skills, their hard work with me and their belief that I could go places.”