JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO – LACKLAND, Texas – Imagine being the first black athlete to compete in a sport where you are hurling yourself headfirst down an icy track at speeds over 90 mph. That is exactly what Airman First Class Kelly Curtis did recently as she competed in the skeleton at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
Her journey to the sport and the Air Force began in 2015 while attending Springfield College in Massachusetts.
Erin Pac, a fellow Springfield alumna and Olympic bobsled bronze medalist, introduced Curtis to sliding and fellow Team USA teammate Katie Uhlaender told her about the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program. Curtis’ brother also served in the Air Force and was a strong influence, she said.
“I never thought I would be able to serve my country while being able to compete in the sport that I grew to love,” said Curtis. “I knew of Army WCAP athletes in bobsledding and it was Katie who told me about the Air Force recruiting civilians and turning them into WCAP athletes and I also got good advice from my brother whom was active duty in the Air Force.”
Until now, Curtis’ time in the Air Force has primarily centered on training for and competing in the Olympics.
From enlisting, graduating from Air Force basic training in the fall of 2020, and then stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, to full-time training for the famous international sports event at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, California, and competing on behalf of the U.S. Air Force and the United States in 2022, Curtis’ journey has been monumental.
“This experience has been too good to be true, the support you receive from the Air Force Services Center and WCAP has allowed me to progress in my sport in such a short amount of time,” said Curtis. “Being able to compete in the Olympics would not have been possible without the support of WCAP and my family.”
During her time at the California training venue, Curtis climbed the ranks in her sport, named to her first national team, and became Intercontinental Cup Champion in the 2019-2020 season. Airman Curtis’ personal headfirst speed record is 136.6 kph/84.88 mph.
Though her result at the Winter Olympics was not what she had hoped -- placing 21 out of 25 -- she said she was proud to compete as an Airman. Competing alongside the smallest Skeleton team sent to the Olympics with veteran slider Katie Uhlaender in the women’s division, and Andrew Blaser in the men’s division.
“Being able to walk with my Team USA teammates during the opening ceremonies was when it really hit me that I was an Olympian,” said Curtis. “I saw some amazing athletes from different sports and competing alongside my fellow sliders was amazing, although I didn’t come out with the result I wanted, I will definitely be back in the 2026 games.”
Curtis said she was proud to represent her black heritage as the first black skeleton athlete at the Olympics and being an Airman made it more special.
“I know I am the first, but I know I will not be the last and I hope to be with more of my fellow Airman when we take the stage at Milan Cortina in 2026.”
“We are proud of Airman Curtis for not only competing in the sport of skeleton, but representing our country as an Airman due to our unwavering support through the World Class Athlete Program,” said Col. Christopher Parrish, Air Force Services Center commander.
In 1995, the Air Force established the World Class Athlete Program, managed by the AFSVC, to continue the legacy of Tuskegee Airman Malvin G. Whitfield. Whitfield, who was a Korean War tail gunner, became the first active-duty American service member to win Olympic gold in 1952 in Helsinki.
“Whitfield trained for the 1952 games by running on an airfield between bombing missions,” Parrish said. “Curtis was able to train in separate facilities and be with her fellow teammates to earn her spot on Team USA while completing tasks required of all Airmen.”
With the 2022 Winter Olympic Games behind her, Curtis is back at Aviano AB where she is supporting the Air Force mission there as knowledge management operations apprentice.
“It’s been an honor to compete with the best women on the planet in this sport and to also serve my country in the same capacity,” Curtis said. “I am really looking forward to meeting with my fellow Airmen at Aviano, hearing about the job I will be doing and starting my official career as an Airman in the Air Force.
With the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation currently ranking Curtis No. 14 in the world, she is also looking forward to rejoining WCAP again in a few years in hopes of competing in Milan Cortina during the 2026 Winter Olympics.