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Zionsville Times Sentinel

When Zionsville’s Kelly Wesley Link entered Assumption High School in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., she signed up for the track team.

She also saw cross country on the list of activities, and signed up for that thinking it meant cross country skiing. Of course, it turned out to be cross country running.

“It actually became one of my favorite sports to do,” Link said. It also became a sport in which she found great success.

Link would go on to be a state champion runner in track, and then went to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to run both track and cross country there. She would go on to race in the NCAA Division III national championships in both sports.

For all these honors, Link received the ultimate honor this month: She was named to the UW-Whitewater Athletic Hall of Fame. Link was formally inducted at a ceremony at the college Saturday, Oct. 14. Seven other athletes were also inducted that day.

“It was one of the most important days of my life,” said Link, who graduated from UW-Whitewater in December 1990.

Link found out she was nominated for a spot in the Hall of Fame earlier this year. She was given a data sheet to fill out with information regarding her high school and college athletic endeavors, which she filled out and sent back to the university.

“Then I just waited until I got a call stating that I had made it,” Link said.

The groundwork for Link’s induction began at Assumption. In 1986 (her senior year), Link won state championships in both the 1600-meter run (finishing in 5 minutes, 9.8 seconds) and 3200-meter run (clocking in at 11:25). Both were state and school records at the time.

After that, Link headed to UW-Whitewater, where she immediately joined the cross country and track teams. She would run on both teams for all four years.

“I loved it,” Link said. “For me, the best thing I could’ve ever done is to immediately join up with the cross country and track teams. You have instant friends, you got that instant discipline, especially being a freshman coming into college and leaving home for the first time. I knew I had practice every day right at three o’clock, so you had to get your homework in there and everything.”

Link also found a mentor in UW-Whitewater cross country coach Jeff Miller, who has been coaching for the Warhawks since 1982.

“The team had never gone to nationals before I got there. Right now, their cross country program is so strong, and he (Miller) feels that was the start of it right there,” Link said.

Link made it to nationals her sophomore, junior and senior years. In her junior year (1988), she helped the Warhawks reach nationals as a team.

“I remember I went as a sophomore, and I came back saying, ‘I’m going next year with my team,’” Link said. “It was exciting for the team, because it was the first (women’s) team that had ever gone to nationals.” UW-Whitewater finished 11th in the 1988 nationals race.

Link’s best time in a 5,000-meter cross country race is 18:07, which she achieved Nov. 14, 1987. The time is still the fourth-fastest 5,000-meter time in UW-Whitewater history.

“It was exciting,” Link said. “The first year I went (to nationals) for cross country, I was the first one from our team to go, so it was kind of new.”

Link’s best finish at nationals was 34th in her senior race. “I was five seconds from being an All-American,” she said. Later in her senior year, she made her only trip to nationals in track, qualifying in the 3,000-meter race.

After she graduated, Link went on to work for Norwest Financial (which later became Wells Fargo) in 1991. During her time at Wells Fargo, she married Patrick Link, and left the company in 1998 to become a stay-at-home mom to her three children: Courtney (age 11), Cody (9) and Caitlin (6). Kelly Wesley Link said that since the age of 4, all of her kids have been involved in a sport.

“My dad was always my coach, my training partner,” Link said. “We always had a close relationship growing up... even when I was in college there was rarely a time that him and my mom weren’t there at my races.”

“I’m running my kids (to) multiple sports, and I love every minute from the practice to the games. I love it just as much as they do.”

And while she’s now happy to play the role of team mom to her children, Link continues to be an active athlete. She continues to run with her husband and children.

“I like the feeling of staying in shape, health-wise, which I think is a very important example for my children,” Link said. Link also speaks highly of the relationships she’s formed through athletics — not just with her teammates and coaches, but also with her competitors as well.

“You’d go there and everyone was social, and talking about where they lived,” Link said. That’s probably one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most (is) the friends I’ve made, the relationships I’ve strengthened by who I run with. That’s one of my favorite parts of running, is running with others.”

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