Feature photo courtesy of Maria Peterson.
In November, junior Hayes Kelchner talked about an injury that forced him away from the basketball court for a significant amount of time. Kelchner did his best to come back stronger after the injury, and a few months later, he found himself summoning his strength once again.
A month and a half ago, Kelchner’s mother suddenly passed away.
“Ever since then,” Kelchner said, “I’ve had … something else in me.”
A few days after his mom passed away, Kelchner spent his spring break in the gym for more than six hours each day.
“The night it happened, [basketball was] the first thing I thought about because she always loved watching me play,” he said.
Over the course of two months, he lost 20 pounds, some of which he admitted was weight he had gained while recovering from injuries.
Upon returning to school, he worked to improve his grades, on top of the ongoing work he continued to put into his game.
“Now I feel like I have to prove everything,” Kelchner said. “I’m giving it everything for her.”
The junior said communication with Yale University has also influenced him to focus on his grades. Though he hasn’t received an offer from Yale, he said the school asked for a copy of his transcript and he spoke with a coach a few months ago.
“[When] they requested my transcript, I was thinking, ‘Oh, God, they probably have all sorts of geniuses[at Yale],’” Kelchner said. “I feel like I’m capable of having those type of grades. It gives me an extra thing to work for.”
With just a few more weeks of the school year to go, Kelchner is looking ahead to the summer. He wants to use the time to lose a few more pounds and gain back some of the speed and strength he may have lost through the winter season’s string of injuries, including a nagging hamstring and a rolled ankle. He also said he wants to focus more sharply on basketball.
“My other years of high school … I wasn’t dedicated,” he said. “But now I’ve definitely got my priorities straightened out. I realized how bad I want [it]. I think I was just kind of saying it for show before. I really mean it now.”
Kelchner said he hopes to get a full-ride scholarship to a college relatively close to his Connecticut home and that he isn’t afraid to put in the work to get there.
“I want to live a successful, easy life,” he said. “Not easy in the sense that everything’s going to be handed to me, [but] easy in the sense that I’m going to pave the way for myself and the rest will follow.”
For now, Kelchner said he will continue to use his mom’s death as motivation both on and off the court.
“If I’m tired or someone’s getting in my head, I’m always going to remember [to] make the most of what I have,” he said. “I still have a life and I can still do a lot with it. It wouldn’t be fair to her if I didn’t make the most of it.
“Turning a tragedy into motivation is my whole thing,” Kelchner said. “I always thought that was an admirable trait when I saw it in other people. I’ve been kind of proud of myself for…making the most of it.”