MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N. C. — -- As she walks around the supply warehouse of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Support Group, this supply administrative clerk looks like any another Marine proudly serving her country.
But what many do not know, is that not long ago this leatherneck was the number one ranked boxer in her weight class in the nation…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Cpl. Grace M. Kelly was raised in a single parent home along with her three younger brothers and joined the Marine Corps in 2002 after graduating from Steilacoom High School in Washington.
“I wanted to be able to help out my family financially and set a good example for my brothers,” the Vale, Ore., native said. “I chose the Marine Corps because it is the most difficult service, and it would give me better training.”
After completing all of her initial training, she reported to Camp Kinzer, Okinawa, Japan, where a chance meeting after a pick up game of basketball opened a door to participation on her first Marine Corps athletic team.
“The basketball coach for the women’s team approached me and offered me a chance to try out for the All-Marine Women’s Basketball team,” the 5-foot-8, 145 pound athlete said. “After two days of being at my first duty station, I was on my way to try outs in Camp Pendleton (California).”
Kelly, who competed in high school sporting events, including basketball, fast pitch soft
ball, volleyball and the javelin throw, saw this as an opportunity to build her athletic abilities.
“It was fun and everyone was very professional,” Kelly remembered. “I was the youngest member to make the team and eventually made it to the starting line up where I played the two (shooting guard), three (small forward), and four (power forward) positions.”
After the season, Kelly returned to Camp Foster where, during a grueling session of Marine Corp Martial Arts training, she decided to pursue another sport that would provide her with different offensive and defensive techniques.
“I was sparring with the best male boxers, and the coach told me that I had a lot of natural talent and with a month’s worth of hard practice I could make the All-Marine team,” said the 22-year-old. “I flew out a month later and made the team.”
A few months later Kelly fought her first bout at an All-Marine Boxing event against her own roommate, Amanda Myers.
“It was so intense. There is no other adrenaline rush, like when you enter the boxing ring,” Kelly said with a smile. “Hundreds of people were screaming, and I couldn’t even hear the ref a few feet away.”
Kelly won the fight, but her victory was short-lived as she suffered her first loss by decision to the then number one ranked fighter in her class at an All-Armed Forces Boxing tournament.
“She was one of the best females I have ever fought,” said Kelly. “After that I trained harder and tried to correct the mistakes I saw myself make in the films.”
After a few more wins and couple months, Kelly was in the National Boxing Tournament were she battled her way to the finals only to find herself facing another top seeded boxer.
“I lost by decision and was really upset because I really wanted to win and another number one had beaten me,” said a shaken Kelly. “I had only been boxing for six months at that point, but she still is the best female fighter I ever had to fight.”
With those two hard losses behind her Kelly won many other fights and numerous trophies including Female Military Boxing Athlete of the Year and Camp Lejeune Female Athlete of the Year for 2004.
Kelly’s boxing skills and talents are not limited to athletics. She is also an accomplished vocalist and sang the National Anthem at most of the sporting events she participated in, as well as other base events by invitation.
“I’ve been singing since I was little, and I won a few solo titles when I was in high school,” Kelly said. “One of my favorite memories is when I sung the anthem before I fought representing the U.S. in Canada against their team. I remember that because later on I won ‘Fighter of the Night’ after they had to stop the fight.”
In April of 2005, the Woman’s boxing team was disbanded and a combination of older injuries and military training brought Kelly’s boxing career to a close. She underwent multiple surgeries from which she is still recovering.
“The Marines in my shop have really helped me out during my injury and made it bearable,” Kelly said with a laugh. “We are truly All-Marine supply.”
“It is very frustrating because I have been playing sports and being active my entire life. It made me learn a lot of new things and take up new interests,” Kelly said. “I look forward to getting back to that and just being able to run this summer.”
Kelly’s time in the Marine Corps will a close this summer and she hopes to start college soon after to become an interpreter.
“I feel most problems can be solved with better communication, and the Marine Corps gave me a great stepping stone for the future,” she said. “It gave me a lot of discipline, and I’m still motivated and proud to say ‘I did it--I’m a Marine.’”