Ice Network

Former pairs skater Keeley brings teamwork to OR

Two-time U.S. bronze medalist found her post-skating passion in nursing
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Being a nurse gives Katy Keeley that same feeling of teamwork she experienced during her skating days. -courtesy of Katy Keeley

Last month, Katy Keeley took her daughter, Meagan, skating, and the 8-year-old loved it. So, it's entirely possible skating could re-enter Keeley's life in a meaningful way.

It's been 25 years since Keeley, a two-time U.S. pairs bronze medalist with Joseph Mero, had a serious involvement in skating. Although she still owns skates and enjoys the occasional trip to the rink, Keeley's life is focused on Meagan; her son, Ryan, 10; and a vibrant career as a surgical nurse, a profession she picked because she saw a distinct connection to the teamwork aspect of skating.

Keeley grew up in San Diego. Her father was a naval officer who was gone more than half the year on tours of duty. To keep Keeley and her two brothers occupied, their mother put them in multiple sports.

"I did ballet, gymnastics and skating," recalled Keeley, 48, whose first coach was Janet Champion. "I fell in love with skating."

As Keeley progressed, she found herself doing extremely well in local competitions, beating some of the big names on the West Coast but faltering when qualifying season was at hand.

"I got so nervous," she said. "This was back in the days of figures. I made these stupid mistakes, like missing my center. I remember thinking, 'I must not be that good of a competitor.' So, I quit skating."

Her retirement lasted about six weeks, after which she returned to the rink. John Baldwin Sr. saw the petite Keeley (she's under five feet tall) and asked her to skate pairs with one of his students, Gary Kemp, who needed a partner for his gold test.

Within months, she had passed all her tests, including gold, and the pair got an invitation to compete at Sports Festival (a summer competition eventually renamed "Olympic Festival" that encompassed numerous summer and winter sports).

"That was the first competition I'd ever been in on that level. People looked at me like, 'Who is this?' I knew nobody, and we got eighth," Keeley said. "I loved it."

After two seasons, Kemp was ready to turn pro, but Keeley felt she was just getting started competitively. She soon teamed up with Mero, and they began training with John Nicks. Keeley's father retired from the Navy, and the family relocated.

"I loved skating pairs," Keeley said. "I loved the fact that there was somebody out there that I was with. It kind of took all the nerves away. It was fun. I absolutely loved the throws and lifts."

After a bronze medal at the 1987 U.S. Championships, the 1988 Olympic Winter Games appeared likely, but a fourth-place finish at the U.S. championships kept them off the Olympic team. When the top two U.S. pairs left the scene -- Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard turned pro, and Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner retired -- Keeley and Mero were encouraged to continue competing.

They made the podium at the 1989 U.S. Championships, but only two teams got to go to the world championships. At that point, Keeley decided she was done with the sport.

She considered joining Ice Capades but ultimately decided to go to college. Inspired by two uncles who were attorneys, she planned to major in history and then go to law school. During her junior year, a conversation with a classmate led her to check out the nursing program.

"We spend too much time in our lives working, I needed to love what I do," Keeley said. "I went to a counselor and talked about my background, my skating, my high energy and my personality type. He said I would be a great fit with either physical therapy, sports medicine or nursing."

She chose nursing. The program wasn't easy, but the discipline and mental toughness gained in skating kept her focused. Nursing training involves clinicals (hospital training), and while observing in the operating room, she found her passion.

"I saw the team. It was very similar to skating," she said. "In the operating room, it is a team of people."

Keeley, who works at Hope Hospital in Newport Beach, California, doesn't have a particular specialty. Throughout her career, she has been involved in every type of surgery, from small procedures to open heart surgery.

"We can't do it without every person on that team," she noted.

It's only recently that Keeley's children recognized the full extent of their mother's skating. On a visit to their grandparents' house, they finally realized the framed medals on the wall were hers.

Keeley said with a laugh, "They were wide eyed."

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