Today’s Senita Spotlight features Kelly Rufolo, a Senita Sister we had the pleasure of meeting at our open call photo shoot in May. A lover of our stance that fitness is for everyone, and also our pants that fit her tall 5’10” frame with, in Kelly’s words, the perfect “crotch to belly button ratio,” we are absolutely thrilled to learn more about her incredible journey and share it with you.
Kelly Rufolo kept the pictures of two women on her dashboard, the women who had inspired her to change her life and to never give up. In 2015, these pictures served as continued motivation to pursue her newfound running dreams and health goals. One picture was of Kelly’s late grandmother, a strong, no-nonsense woman and self-made millionaire to boot. The other picture was local Phoenix running icon Sally Meyerhoff, a successful runner and role model for the community who had tragically passed when she was hit by a car while biking. Both women served as strong reminders of perseverance and positivity, two qualities Kelly was developing in spades.
After her father experienced a stroke due to poor health, Kelly took a look at her life and decided she wanted to make some changes.
“I knew [my dad’s] lifestyle habits weren’t fantastic and I didn’t want that to be me,” Kelly said. “I just knew I needed a change and I wasn’t really sure what it was.”
It was at that point Kelly happened upon a flyer in her chiropractor’s office for a neighborhood 5k and training plan.
“I just ran the race, I was very slow. I was 200 pounds, I ran cursing the whole way,” Kelly said, “I thought, ‘who runs in Arizona anyways? This is miserable,’ but I did it, and I didn’t want to accept being in my 20’s and being so out of shape.”
Kelly was surprised by the number of participants, about 1200, and learned the turnout was partly due to honoring Sally Meyerhoff, a girl Kelly had never heard of until that day. There had been a moment of silence for her before the race, and Kelly was curious to know more about her.
“That first finish line changed my life forever,” Kelly said.
Truly, completing the race and learning Sallly’s legacy at that first 5k quickly lead Kelly to her first half marathon. Nine half marathons and one year later, Kelly completed her first full marathon as well. Sally’s motto of “be relentlessly positive” became a mantra for Kelly too, a fitting phrase for her swift adoption of long distance running life.
“It was just so fun and I loved the challenge,” Kelly said of competing. “I traveled all over California and to new cities across America, and met a ton of new people who changed my perspective on things.”
On December 6, 2015 and just a few months shy of her fifth marathon, Kelly was driving when her car blew a tire, lost control and crashed into a wall. Due to a head injury while the car spun, Kelly doesn’t have a complete memory of the accident and what happened immediately following the accident, but she says when she came to after the crash, she could tell right away it was serious.
“I heard strong voices telling me to get out of the car, there was even profanity,” Kelly said. “I believe the voices were angels, my grandma and [Sally].”
Kelly listened to her angels and extracted herself from the car, but again, she’s fuzzy on exactly how she accomplished that. A feat that is even more miraculous when you consider her injuries.
“I staggered across the hill and sat there,” Kelly said. “I had a head injury, I had glass all over me. I just knew I was extremely grateful to be alive.”
But then Kelly looked down and saw what she describes as the inside of her knee. The crash had caused Kelly’s knee to slam into the ignition of her car, the keys doing serious damage to her nerves.
Emergency surgery and three months of physical therapy still left Kelly with numbness and pain in her leg. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Kelly faced even greater obstacles due to her head injury.
“My head injury made me forget how to walk, so I was just flopping around and stomping a lot, it was quite a spectacle,” Kelly said, adding that she can joke about it now.
It was at this point, six months later, when Kelly took her life into her own hands yet again, determined to find a way to heal. This time yoga and pilates were the answers. Kelly completed a 30-day Bikram Yoga challenge.
“Day one I laid there and kind of cried because of [the pain],” Kelly said.
Kelly finished that challenge and then learned more yoga and pilates through following others on Instagram and completing the challenges they offered as well. Practicing each discipline improved her mobility and strength and slowly Kelly fought her way back to what she calls “functional running”.
“All this time I’ve still been wanting to run, I’m gonna get there,” Kelly said. “Since my accident, I’ve missed nothing as much as the running.”
Her victories have been many: the ability to wear pants again (the numbness and pain made even a sheet feel like a razor), the ability to walk in flip flops, the ability to run a 5k, despite a residual limp and numbness in her leg, and even the ability to complete two runs this week in the brutal Arizona heat, just another mental obstacle for Kelly to overcome. She seems to eat such challenges for breakfast.
“I just never gave up, I refuse to give up.” Kelly said. “Slowly but surely, every victory I have, I try my best to keep it going.”
Today, Kelly is on her way to her full Yoga teaching certification. Her goals include completing the Chicago Marathon, running a sub 30 minute 5k, and traveling the world to share and learn more about health and healing.
Kelly radiates the relentless positivity she learned from Sally Meyerhoff, and she doesn’t settle or quit, just as her grandma would have wanted.
“If I would have focused on all the things I couldn’t do, I would have literally lost my mind,” Kelly said. “Never give up, you can overcome any obstacle.”
You can catch more of Kelly’s amazing journey on Instagram by following @yogikel.
What you’ll get: a perfect balance (pun intended) of yoga health, nutritional health, and mental health encouragement and inspiration. Get at it.
What you’ll love: That relentless positivity motto! Every step is a victory and Kelly will show you how to recognize and cherish each one.
What’ll make you jelly: We declare Kelly the Queen of Selfies, and we accept this fact in humble awe.