Born: March 16, 1977
Kelly Kulick was born March 16, 1977 in Union Township. Her parents, Bill and Carol, owned an auto body shop in Elizabeth. Talented, hardworking and competitive, Kelly pushed herself at an early age. She picked hardball over softball, but quit Little League after a season when the coach refused to play her with the first-stringers.
Eventually, she found a place where she could compete with boys on an even plane: the bowling alley. She excelled in league play as a tween and teen, then for the Union High School team, and ultimately for Morehead State in Kentucky, where she was named NCAA Bowler of the Year in 1999 and 2000.
In 2001, Kelly officially turned pro when she joined the Professional Women’s Bowling Association. The PWBA folded in 2003, but by then Kelly had won Rookie of the Year honors and also captured her first of three U.S. Women’s Open titles. In 2004, the PBA, formerly a men’s-only association, opened its membership to women. Kelly tried twice to qualify for a tour exemption but could not snag the necessary Top 10 spot in her first two attempts. She decided to try once more, and if she failed again she would put her degree in health science to work and embark on a new career.
In the tour qualifying competition in spring of 2006, Kelly bowled a perfect 300 on the final day and finished sixth among 140 bowlers and became the first woman to earn a tour exemption from the PBA, which allowed her to compete in every event during 2006–07. One of the bowlers she beat was her boyfriend, Jim Tomek. She missed most of the tournament cuts that season, however, and lost her exempt status.
In 2009, the PBA staged its first Women’s World Championship. Kelly won the event, beating Shannon Pluhowsky in the finals by 15 pins. The victory automatically earned her a spot in the 2010 PBA Tournament of Champions.
In what ranks among the greatest moments in women’s sports, Kelly defeated the all-male field to become the first woman to win a major-league championship sports event against men. Just making it to the final was big news. When she beat #1 ranked Chris Barnes—by 70 pins—it was a jaw-dropping moment. Kelly bowled 9 strikes in her first 10 frames.
Among the congratulations she received afterwards was a bouquet of flowers from NASCAR star Jeff Gordon. Later that season she won her second U.S. Women’s Open, and was named International Bowler of the Year. She failed to defend her U.S. Open title in 2011 but won the tournament again in 2012. She was the third three-time winner, joining legends Marion Ladewig and Patty Costello.
At the 2013 World Games, Kelly won silver in the women’s singles and gold in the mixed doubles with Mike Fagan. She was also crowned champion at the 2013 and 2014 WBT World Series of Bowling.