Sullivan County Democrat
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January 24, 2014 Issue
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Eli Ruiz | Democrat

Monticello junior Travis Kelly has relied on wrestling and his Panther teammates to help him overcome the tragic loss of both of his parents in the last three years.

Wrestling with tragedy

Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO — January 10, 2014 — Suffering the loss of a parent can be extremely difficult for even an adult to deal with.
So one can only imagine the crushing effect the loss of both parents could have on a mere 17-year-old high school junior.
But Monticello wrestler and team co-captain Travis Kelly isn’t your average 17-year-old. And his Panthers wrestling team isn’t your average team.
As if losing his mother in 2010 wasn’t bad enough, Kelly literally saw major tragedy strike again just before this past holiday season with the loss of his father on December 19. To make matters worse, Kelly was the person who discovered his lifeless father last month.
The Monticello wrestling team has rallied to help young Kelly deal with the losses he’s suffered the last three years.
And through sheer mental toughness, coupled with the support of his teammates and coaches, Kelly hasn’t missed a step.
As he tells it, that fateful day last month, he received several calls from his grandmother. Admittedly one who rarely answers his phone, after about five calls, he knew it had to be something of importance.
“I decided to call her back and she told me that my dad was asleep on the couch but that she just couldn’t wake him up. She said he was breathing really loudly but that he just wouldn’t wake up for her.” Kelly rushed home.
Upon arriving, Kelly says his father was indeed lying on the couch, but he was no longer breathing. He called for an ambulance. Paramedics would confirm Kelly’s greatest fear: his father was gone. “Finding him like that really killed me,” offered Kelly, who says his father and he were “very very close.”
Summoning his inner strength, and against his teammates and coaches’ advice, just two days after the loss of his father, Kelly decided to compete in the December 21 Walton Wrestling Tournament.
“When they saw me there, they asked me ‘what the heck I was doing there?’” recalls Kelly. “I told them I was there for them. I showed up to support my team. They’ve really been here for me through this really tough time and I thought that the least I could do was be there for them.”
But Kelly didn’t just merely “show up” to the tournament. Wrestling at 170 pounds, he somehow managed to place an impressive second overall, even pinning the No. 1 seed in his second match propelling him into the tournament finals where he’d suffer his first loss of the day.
On Christmas Eve, his team would return the favor, showing up en masse for his father’s funeral.
“Just about the entire team was there,” said Kelly. “I think only one guy who just couldn’t make it wasn’t there.”
Said one of those teammates and Kelly’s close friend, John Doherty:
“We [the wrestling team] are definitely like a family and we felt obligated to be there for him because we know that he’d be there for us no matter what. We look out for each other on this team, and sometimes it’s just not all about winning. I would do anything for this team and for Travis. He really is a champ.”
But it wasn’t only his team who showed up for the service: “I was even more surprised when I realized that more than half my teachers came to the funeral too. It just meant so much to me.”
Assistant wrestling coach and Monticello math teacher Marc Gittleman is another special person in Kelly’s life, someone he says he “owes so much.”
“I met him [Gittleman] when I was in the seventh grade,” explains Kelly. “I was kind of this class clown at the time and he just took an interest in me. He kind of took me under his wing. He’s just an amazing man who’s mentored me a lot and taught me so much – not just about wrestling but also about life. I really just can’t tell you how much he’s done for me.”
As for Gittleman, he’s equally enamored of Kelly.
“He’s just the kind of an amazing kid who will support his team in absolutely any way he can,” says Gittleman. “He wants to be a leader and demonstrate the right things to his teammates on the field or mat, outside of athletics and even in the classroom. He’s been through a lot for anybody, let alone someone his age, but he’s doing really well – really, really well and he’s just been trying to channel whatever emotions he has in a positive way. He’s just a great kid and teammate.”
Right now, Kelly says he’s trying to focus on school and his family. He and his younger brother, Justin, who also wrestles for the Panthers as a freshman, will be moving in with their grandmother for the time being.
Kelly is 5-1 on the season for Monticello, his only loss coming in the Walton Tournament. On Wednesday, he scored an impressive 16-6 decision over Wallkill’s Joe Lamonica, one of only two Monti victories on the night.
“Wrestling is great to help me deal with stress because it’s physical,” said Kelly. “It’s helped me a lot over the last few years.”
Kelly plans on attending college and hopefully wrestling at the next level.
“Well, I haven’t really fully decided exactly what I’m going to do but I do know I want to go to college maybe in the City or somwhere down south,” said Kelly. “I’d really love to wrestle or play football in college and maybe one day even coach, but who knows, but I’d really love to keep competing.”
Kelly is reflective about his tragic losses.
“You know, a lot of people never even get to meet their parents for one reason or another. I’m just thankful for the time I was given with both my mother and my father. I’ve learned that no matter what happens in life, there really always is a silver lining. I’ve also learned to appreciate what I do have because it could be gone tomorrow. It really hurt to lose my dad so suddenly, and of course, I wish I’d gotten a lot more time with him, but now I carry his dreams with me and I always will.”

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