Most of us look at an ice hockey rink or soccer and rugby pitches and see mere playing surfaces. Alev Kelter, who has played all three of those sports at elite levels, views them differently.
“The pitch is your canvas, or the rink is your canvas,” Kelter said. “You’re creating something special with your teammates, and for me, that is a performance art. Sport is a performance art, and each player has their specialty or their medium they’re really good at. You’re using your body to create space to provide something beautiful to watch.”
That perspective makes sense when you consider that Kelter earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Wisconsin. The 30-year-old Eagle River, Alaska, resident is currently preparing for the Olympic Games in Tokyo as a member of the U.S. women’s rugby sevens team.
“We’re a team that really wants to put our bodies on the line for each other,” Kelter said. “We are looking amazing. We’re top four in the world right now, and we want [to earn a medal].
“We have a great pool. We have Australia, Japan and China in our pool. We’ll play Japan first in Tokyo, so that’ll be a challenge, playing the home country.”
Kelter is preparing for her second Olympics in rugby. (Photo credit: Travis Prior)
Kelter has faced plenty of challenges during her athletic career. She fell short of her dream of playing ice hockey and soccer in the Olympic Games after excelling in both sports at Wisconsin with her twin sister, Derya.
She won an NCAA championship at Wisconsin and also served as captain of the U.S. team that won the 2009 IIHF Under-18 World Championship alongside future Olympians such as Amanda Kessel, Kendall Coyne and Brianna Decker. Kelter received a tournament Directorate Award after she led all U.S. defenders with eight points on five goals and three assists. She also tied for first on the team with a +17 rating as the U.S. went undefeated, outscoring their opponents 58-4 on the way to gold.
Kelter also earned gold at the inaugural event in 2008, collecting six assists and a +11 rating.
“Rugby wasn’t on the horizon at all,” Kelter said. “I had zero idea that that was an opportunity or a path that I could take. When one door closes, another opens.”
The door was opened by Ric Suggitt, then coach of the U.S. women’s rugby sevens, who invited her to try the sport at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. She walked through it and, three years later, she played in the 2016 Games in Rio and became the first American woman to score in the sport’s Olympic debut.
Kelter enters the Tokyo Games as one of only two U.S. team members with Olympic experience. The center/prop leads the team in tries, tackles and overall appearances in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Kelter said the skills she developed in ice hockey and soccer have transferred nicely to rugby.
“For me, ice hockey and the speed of play and the hand-eye coordination and the physicality all led to me being a better rugby player,” Kelter said. “And soccer, the touches on the ball, kicking with … different parts of your foot, and also just the fitness of soccer helps with rugby tremendously.
“A lot of [rugby] is catching the ball, passing the ball, running, being a threat, but it’s all happening so fast. It’s physical. It was awesome that rugby came on the horizon, and I’m really … just extremely blessed. I’m ready to make something sweet out of this new opportunity with rugby and to not look back.”
Kelter obviously has been successful at a high level in three sports. What advice would she give to young athletes hoping to do multiple sports?
“What I would [say] to younger athletes is try everything,” Kelter said. “You never know what you’re going to fall in love with, and you never know what skills are going to correlate with the sport you’re playing.”
While her focus is on helping the U.S. to a medal at the upcoming Games, Kelter continues to keep her artistic side alive, as well.
“It’s a dream to get my master’s in fine arts, and I probably will make my way back to Wisconsin,” she said. “Again, it comes back to my hands and creating. It’s really important that threaded throughout my sports career is this ability to see and create and experience art in my sport. It’s like, any given day, you show up, and you’re creating, and I love that.
Kelter with her 2009 gold medal. She served as captain of the team.
“When I look at that bigger picture, all the sports I’ve played, it’s been this very beautiful mosaic coming together to make this Olympic run. It’s very vibrant and energetic and exciting, adventurous.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.