Anthony Kelley has come a long way from a tough area of Pasadena, California. But the one time University of Washington linebacker credits his current success more to his travels abroad than to the gridiron.
“The Global Threads mission is to inspire and help people go abroad.”
-Kyle McAllister, CEO and founder of Global Threads.
Now the director of student diversity and outreach for Washington State University, Anthony Kelley couldn’t have imagined the successful, giving ways his life would develop when he began his college football career in the late 1990s. Growing up with separated parents, Kelley’s life did not have an easy beginning. With sheer determination to succeed in the arena of sports, he was accepted to the University of Washington to play football. Kelley had success on the field his freshman year and, at that time, academics were not a priority. It had always been football—football as a path to success. Now, almost 20 years after beginning his freshman year in college, Kelley reflects with Global Threads about how his life developed, from dreams of the National Football League to a life-changing trip to South Africa.
His football coach at the time encouraged Kelley to study abroad, emboldening the curiosity he saw in Anthony beyond the football field. Taking his coach’s words to heart, Anthony soon spoke to his academic advisor about study abroad opportunities at the University and eventually chose to study in South Africa.
Kelley’s wakeup call came when he started working with children in South Africa. The majority of the kids he worked with were impoverished, living in rundown neighborhoods. Anthony recalls the children “looking at me with a sense of hope,” which made for a painful discernment—where was the doing good for others whilst being part of a talented, well connected collegiate football team? Kelley even recalls thinking seriously about quitting football. He explains, “It was a selfish way of being. Sometimes we have a hard time humbling ourselves and understanding that the world does not revolve around us. By removing myself from a world that focused on me—from Seattle to South Africa—my ideas about my own identity were challenged.”
The shift of his thought processes from this amazing learning experience helped Kelley hone in on things he could improve upon. Most notably upon returning from studying abroad, one change was to ramp up his academic performance. “It was very foreign and scary. I was apprehensive—all my life I had been focused on athletics.” But things went well, and soon Kelley was getting officially noticed for his academic achievements. Academics became his focus, and Kelley understood the gravity of his success: “I had to step into this role as academic leader, athletic example for the others that were coming behind me. Education is not about just the job or about having something to do, it’s an opportunity to investigate all that you are so you can be the best person you can be.” He learned this lesson quickly. As his passion for engaged learning grew stronger, football seemed less like the be-all, end-all Kelley had previously held sports to be.
“Anthony’s story is inspiring and I think getting out of our comfort zone in our young adult life is beneficial for long term success,” says Kyle McAllister, president of Global Threads. “The Global Threads mission is to inspire and help people go abroad. It surprises me that less than 10% of students take this chance.” With ever-changing world dynamics we may see more young people working, traveling and living abroad. Global Threads looks to share stories about bettering people’s future traveling experiences. We also want to provide context for some of the struggles travelers may face, all in one place on the Global Threads website. With our continued partnerships with universities and sharing incredible stories with the likes of Anthony Kelley, we hope to have major influence in the international atmosphere—online and on the ground during your travels.
While Anthony could have had a long, financially extravagant career playing professional football, his travels as an undergraduate football star took him somewhere else—to a place of giving, to a place of expansion.
Kelley’s story stands out among Division I athletes and fits perfectly with Global Threads’ mission to make study abroad programs and travel experiences accessible to everyone. Global Threads is growing quickly by partnering with universities of all sizes.