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Fitness, running and making a difference on Shelter Island: Kelsey McGayhey is always in the game

If you know Kelsey McGayhey, you know that she goes hard. An outstanding Class of 2012 athlete at Shelter Island High School and a 2016 graduate of Springfield College, she tackles sports, fitness and life with a fun, fierce and competitive spirit.

Kelsey is in the Shelter Island Athletic Hall of Fame for her volleyball and basketball achievements. Her basketball jersey hangs in the gym in honor of her 1,000-plus point career. An All-American volleyball player at Springfield, to this day she remains athletically competitive and passionate about fitness.

Kelsey says she’s been a runner since she was a child. “I’ve always enjoyed it. I ran cross country in junior high. It’s very therapeutic, and an activity I enjoyed before I got into fitness.”

Kelsey and Mitchell Clark have been friends for a long time. Mitchell served in the Marine Corps from 2013-2017, rising to the rank of an E-5 Sergeant. In early 2019, he asked Kelsey if she would join him in running a Marines half-marathon in Georgia.

Sunny skies greeted runners Sunday, March 20, 2022, who competed in the Mitchell Half Marathon, surpassing the $10,000 goal the group had set to benefit the Strongpoint Theinert Ranch. Those who ran are (from left) Kevin Barry, Michael Z. Mundy, Jimbo Theinert, Lily Greenberg, Kelsey McGayhey, Mitchell Clark and Eric Kraus. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

At the time she was living in Farmingdale, studying for her massage therapy degree and it didn’t fit her schedule. So, on a lark they decided to do a half-marathon on Shelter Island that February. Both are fit and competitive individuals so they did it “just for fun” and didn’t specifically train for it.

Mitchell drew up a 13.1-mile route and they staged bananas and water bottles along the way. At the last minute they decided to raise money for Strongpoint Theinert Ranch, which had begun its work with veterans just three years before. Donating $100 each, they texted Jimbo Theinert, who happened to be at the ranch. Jimbo thought it was a great idea, and invited them to go sit in a hot tub at his house after the race to recover and hang out.

From that spur-of-the-moment beginning, the half-marathon has grown. In 2020 Jimbo joined them, put it out on a Go Fund Me page, and raised more money for the ranch. Each year since, the half-marathon has added more participants, creating a community of runners, who have raised $25,000 in the past two years.

Last year, nine runners did the half-marathon. It’s become a tradition to have a pizza party and enjoy the hot tub following the event.

Right at you for Strongpoint. Runners on North Midway Road. (Credit: Eleanor P. Labrozzi)

Although in the earliest years, Kelsey didn’t specifically train for the event, she feels that as she gets older, she’s more intentional about her fitness, saying, “I don’t want to hurt myself.” Despite the fact it isn’t officially a race, “I’m very competitive, and I didn’t like that I finished so far back last year.”

How does she get ready for the now-traditional half-marathon? While Kelsey isn’t using a personal trainer or following a prescribed training routine, as a life-long athlete she’s listening to her body and building her mileage intentionally and gradually. At about 10 miles into the run people often “gas out,” and she wants to be able to push through that wall.

“I started running for as long as I could, 3-4 miles, and am up to 7-8 miles at the end of February,” she said. “Each week I push a little more.”

She also uses the Strava fitness app to track her workouts. The app documents her workouts and allows athletes to connect with others, give each other encouragement, and build community.

Diet is important, too. While Kelsey stressed that she’s not a certified personal trainer, she does what is intuitive for her body. “Food gives you energy,” she said. “You need good food for a good outcome. If you eat whole foods, you feel better. Live your life, and fuel your body for what your goals are.”

At the start, the half-marathon was primarily a fun challenge between friends. Now in its sixth year, at top of mind is raising money for an incredibly important cause: providing retreats (at no cost to the participants) where active and veteran military members, their families, and Gold Star families come together to strengthen themselves physically and mentally, transition through life’s challenges, and reconnect with friends, family, and most importantly, themselves.

The Strongpoint Theinert Ranch in New Mexico . (Courtesy photo)

Kelsey had the chance to go to the ranch in 2022 to see the work in person. “There’s no other place like Strongpoint Theinert Ranch. It allows you to recenter yourself, build something in yourself in both mental and physical aspects. If being at the ranch can impact me, who hasn’t been through military service, you can see how this can really make a difference in vets’ lives.”

The Strongpoint Theinert Ranch half-marathon will take place on March 23 this year. You can cheer along the route, run, walk or donate. Visit strongpointtheinert.org/ to learn more and make a gift to a great cause.