Posing shirtless on stage at the recent Arnold Sports Festival, Harold Kelley looked every bit the part of a seasoned bodybuilder: massive chest, shredded abs, perfect symmetry, and road-map veins all over his body. The only difference between Kelley and the likes of Kai Greene or Cedric McMillan?
The wheelchair he used to maneuver about on stage, and the division he was competing in. Greene and McMillan went 1-2 respectively in the 2016 Arnold Classic, while Kelley took the crown in the first-ever Arnold Schwarzenegger pro wheelchair bodybuilding competition.
The competition, held during the annual festival that ran from March 3-6, marks a huge milestone in wheelchair bodybuilding, as it allowed athletes like Kelley to compete on one of the sport’s biggest stages. Like many of his fellow competitors, Kelley ended up wheelchair-bound after a tragic accident. He was driving in Oklahoma in 2007 when he swerved to avoid deer that were crossing the road, resulting in his paralysis. While many would see this as an end to any hope of a bodybuilding career – Kelley had been bodybuilding competitively for years at the time of his accident – he instead used it as motivation, saying, “Alright, on to the next deal, lets keep rolling.”
He literally did just that.
Traumatic accidents like the one that left him without the use of his legs typically take months, if not years, to mentally recover from. But Harold Kelley is not typical in any sense of the word. Just months after losing his mobility, he was back in the gym. In his words, he “Had to see what [he] could do and couldn’t do.”
Gone were the days of crushing his favorite body part, legs, so he found a new area to improve on: “Now back is my biggest point of interest. And overall symmetry, looking symmetrical, that’s my biggest thing.”
And he certainly does. Kelley has a jaw-dropping physique, with the extra emphasis on his back clearly paying huge dividends and giving him the classic V-taper every competitive bodybuilder strives for. His hard work has made him hugely successful in wheelchair bodybuilding – he’s won seven of the eight contests in the division’s history – and he laughingly admits, “I’m the guy to beat.”
But his success hasn’t driven a wedge between him and his competitors; it’s actually drawn them closer. The wheelchair bodybuilding community is incredibly tight-knit, with each member always attempting to inspire the others. Kelley is no different, and always tries to inspire and lift up those around him.
His advice is to, “Stay positive always, stay focused and stay faithful to yourself and always speak with positive words, no matter how hard your situation may be.” He certainly walks the walk (or, more appropriately, rolls the roll), saying, “I ain’t got time to be depressed,” and making the very best out of an unfortunate situation. He might not have time for depression, but he certainly has it for inspiring others to chase their dreams.
For that, and for his incredibly impressive physique, we tip our caps. Harold Kelley is a hero and an inspiration, and we can’t wait to see he and fellow wheelchair competitor/lead promoter Nick Scott’s goal of rolling on stage at the Olympia become a reality.
Here are some more highlights from the Wheelchair Bodybuilder competition: