M.S. champion and scholarship donor honored by the College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project

Kelly Walker

Editor’s note: It is with great sadness that we share that Kelly Walker passed away on May 3 at home with family at her side. Kelly was beloved by all, and her legacy of activism, positivity, and inspiration in the face of devastating challenges with M.S. will live on. A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, July 23, at 2 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Ballroom – more info in Kelly’s obituary.

Through her unwavering positivity, infectious sense of humor, support of Colorado State University students, and dedication to the fight against Multiple Sclerosis, Kelly Walker (B.S. ’88, M.S. ’91, ’02) impacts the lives of all who meet her. Walker, who retired in 1998 from the CSU Department of Health and Exercise Science, is being celebrated as a 2022 College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project honoree.

“On behalf of the college, we are so grateful to Kelly Walker for her inspiration and so proud of the extraordinary magic she’s unleashed in the world,” said Lise Youngblade, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “An outstanding alumna of two of our top programs, a stalwart Ram, and beloved member of our CHHS Ramily, she is quite simply, a remarkable human being. She leads with grace, an awesome sense of humor, and a heart that seemingly knows no bounds. I am thrilled we have this opportunity to honor her with the Legacies Project.”

“Meeting Kelly has changed me in profound ways,” said Barry Braun, head of the Department of Health and Exercise Science. “It’s impossible to meet Kelly and not feel connected to her. She has that effect on everyone. Her relentless advocacy for people with M.S., along with her love and support for CSU students, have touched thousands of people and made their world a better place. Her enthusiasm and joy are contagious.”

Early life

A group of adults poses in front of a house in the 1980s
The Walker family

Walker grew up in Lakewood, Colorado, where from elementary school on, she loved sports, running, and riding her bicycle. In junior high and high school, she played volleyball and basketball, ran on the track team, and enjoyed all the camaraderie that comes with relationships with teammates.

Walker chose to attend CSU because her older brother, Tim Walker, Jr. (B.A., history, ’82) was a CSU Ram, and her boyfriend, at the time, was attending CSU. She was also drawn to CSU’s beautiful campus, and she competed on CSU’s track team time for a while. Walker earned her bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science in December 1988. While completing her practicum in Austin, Texas, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She engaged with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and has remained an advocate, fundraiser, and motivational speaker with the organization.

Immediately following her undergraduate degree, Walker embarked on graduate studies in the same field and completed her master’s degree at CSU in 1991. Her thesis was titled “The Efficacy of Exercise on Social Activity and Health Perception in Women with Rheumatoid Arthritis” and her work was supported by a $14,000 grant from the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation. She also completed an interdisciplinary studies program certificate in gerontology.

Work at CSU

Following her master’s degree, Walker worked for the Department of Exercise and Sports Science (now Health and Exercise Science) as a teaching instructor and the fieldwork coordinator for health promotion and sports medicine working with students, the university, and the companies where students were placed in their practicums. She taught practicum classes, weight training and aerobics, and physical education activities as part of the wellness program.

Walker says her favorite part of working with students was listening to their dreams and aspirations about the future and watching them grow in their skills, mature in their accomplishments, achieve their goals, and do things beyond their expectations. Walker also taught sitting aerobics classes to people with multiple sclerosis and aerobics classes at The Pulse in Fort Collins.

Walker fondly remembers many special experiences and relationships at CSU. Cathy Kennedy was one of her faculty mentors during undergraduate school through grad school, during her teaching years, and throughout her life. Her dedication to education and support with internships was phenomenal. Walker’s friendship with Kennedy endures today.

Selfie of two women smiling.
Kelly Walker and Karyn Hamilton

Other mentors who have encouraged, supported, and made a difference in Walker’s life include Cecilia Martin, Sheri Linnell, Kevin Oltjenbruns, Gay Israel, Tamina Toray, Toni Zimmerman, Shelley Haddock, Sonny Lubick, Barb Wetzel, Nancy Hartley, Barry Braun, Karyn Hamilton, Jeff McCubbin, and Dale DeVoe. Walker is humbled by their friendship and caring through the years.

One of Walker’s biggest challenges was accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities act of 1990 allowed for an elevator to be installed so she could access spaces in Moby. Walker cites the challenge of dealing with multiple sclerosis and how it was affecting her body, mind, and spirit, but she didn’t let MS impede her goals. She was determined to succeed and persevere!

Walker retired from CSU in 1998, but she remained very active, earning a master’s degree in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in 2002 with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy. As a part of the program, she worked with individuals and couples in therapeutic clinical settings and explored special interests such as human-animal bond, chronic physical challenges, gerontology, and motivational speaking.

Scholarship in Walker’s honor

Large group photo of a family with college students. The woman in the center sits in a wheelchair.
Kelly and family with scholarship recipients

The Kelly Walker Health Promotion Scholarship was established in 2002 by Walker’s family and friends, and since then more than 30 students who are majoring in health and exercise science have benefited from this fund which has awarded over $60,000 in scholarships through the years. Walker and her family always attend the annual scholarship donor events to meet the student recipients.

Olympic torch

A woman in Olympic hat and jacket holds the torch
Kelly carried the Olympic Torch in 2002.

In 2002, Walker was nominated and given the honor of carrying the Olympic Torch as it entered the state of Colorado on the way to Utah for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Walker carried the first leg of the torch past Poudre Valley Hospital on its way through Fort Collins, and about 25 more people passed the torch through the city.

 

 

Advocacy and fundraising

Five people - four standing, one in a wheelchair - in front of a National MS Society banner
The Walker Family celebrates at a National MS Society event

Walker has been very active with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She and her family founded Team Sugar Bee in 1993, a team of bicyclists who participate in the Bike MS fundraising events. Named for her brother Eric’s childhood nickname for Walker, the team grew from four to 144 riders, in addition to 50+ volunteers. Their team motto is “to help take the sting out of MS.” For 10 years in a row, Team Sugar Bee raised the most funds and had the top number of bicycle riders in the MS 150 in Colorado. The team is always in the top three fundraisers for the event.

In 2010, Team Sugar Bee had raised more than $1 million to help with research to end MS – the first bicycle team in Colorado and Wyoming to achieve this honor. In 2021, Team Sugar Bee surpassed the $2 million mark!

Awards

Walker has received many honors and awards for her community service and advocacy including the following:

  • 2003 College of Applied Human Sciences Honor Alumna Award – from the CSU Alumni Association in 2002.
  • Betaseron Champions of Courage Grant – a grant to help purchase tandem bike to ride in the MS 150 with her husband and team in December 2000 to help inspire others with multiple sclerosis to live life despite challenges and obstacles.
  • MS Champion of Courage Award – awarded in Northern Colorado by the National MS Society in March 1995.
  • Multiple Sclerosis Achievement Award – awarded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Colorado Chapter in April 1996.
  • Team Sugar Bee – recognized with numerous team awards for riders, volunteers, spirit, rest stop coordination, and uniforms.

Legacies Project honoree

Walker is a proud alumna of CSU and continues to support the volleyball and basketball teams and other sports. She stays in contact with former colleagues to promote CSU every chance she gets. Her many family members, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances know how much she loves Fort Collins and CSU. She encourages young people to give CSU a look and attend the best university ever. CSU will always remain a high point in her life.

Walker’s outstanding legacy of support for the M.S. community and for CSU students through her scholarship is recognized with the College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project. To watch a video about Walker and to make a gift in her honor, go to her Legacies webpage. You can support the Kelly Walker Health Promotion Scholarship which goes to health and exercise science students who show outstanding leadership and service in health promotion to the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Walker was honored at the Legacies and Leaders event on April 14, 2022. View photos from the event.

About the Legacies Project

The College of Health and Human Sciences Legacies Project honors the personal and professional histories of former faculty, staff, and alumni of the College. The project has highlighted the achievements of our honorees and preserved their stories since 2012.

The Department of Health and Exercise Science is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.