NASA People

Center Snapshot: Kelly Cox
Kelly Cox, snapshot. Image above: Kelly Cox has practiced her trade of fitness program director in a many different venues. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Her road from St. Paul to the Fitness Center at Langley included thousands of miles aboard an aircraft carrier and 26 miles, 385 yards on the streets of Boston and environs.

The aircraft part lasted three years. Boston lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes, 55 seconds.

"I love what I do and I live the life," said Kelly Cox, who recently moved over from the Riverside Wellness Center to become fitness program director of the Langley facility.

She came to fitness through running, when a middle school teacher spotted her in a gym class and suggested she take up the sport. It took her through Winona State University, where she ran cross country and was on the track team, and into a wellness job with an insurance company in St. Paul, where a website tempted her.

The ship's company aboard the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, then being built at Northrup-Grumman shipyard, needed a fitness director. The Navy was concerned about the overall fitness of its sailors and decided to contract out that portion of their lives to a civilian.

"I got an offer here in Virginia and moved down here by myself," Cox said. "It was a huge culture shock, coming here and into a military lifestyle.

"I lived on the ship, went to sea with them. I had to become accustomed to the way they lived."

That meant she had to adjust to the somewhat cramped quarters aboard ship, running on the flight and hangar decks, teaching yoga in the hangar bay.

"I learned flexibility on board ship," she said.

She also learned to fight a shipboard fire and how to shoot a gun. "I don't know what kind," Cox said, laughing. "A big one."

Cox joined a select group. "I'm a plank owner of the ship," she said of the Reagan. That means she was part of the original crew.

"That means a lot to me. To be a civilian and a plank owner is special. I have a piece of the keel of the ship on a plaque."

Still, it's hard to be at sea and start a family. Doing so led her to Riverside, for a shore side job and a chance to marry Patrick Cox, an IT consultant. They have daughter Delaney, 5, and son Brody, 3.

But chasing children and working in a fitness center isn't enough of a physical challenge. Cox has run in eight marathons, including Boston in April of this year.

"Every marathon I do is for myself and my family," she said. "I'm very goal-oriented. I'm out there for the fun of it, but also to make a statement for myself that I can do it. I like to push myself."

Cox piles on 30-50 miles a week ­ 10-21 miles on a Saturday run alone and intermingles strength training. She competed in Minnesota, in the Twin Cities Marathon and four times at Grandma's in Duluth, Minn.

What she lacked was a qualifying time for the Grail of distance running: the Boston Marathon, which keeps itself elite by keeping out casual runners, requiring a resume to be allowed into the field.

Cox qualified for Boston in last year's Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, running 3:38, two minutes below Boston's required 3:40 for young women. She was in.

It's a grueling race, from suburban Hopkinton to downtown.

"I tried to stay positive the whole time," Cox said. "It was a really exciting race. People were around you the whole time. At the last mile, I kind of got a little sad because it was something I had dreamed about doing my whole life."

Her time allows her to go back next spring. Between now and then, there is the Richmond Marathon to run.

And a new job.

"This opportunity came up and it looked like a great opportunity," she said of the move to Langley. "I'm a builder, and I had done what I could at Riverside.

"I want to build programs, promote programs, hold group exercise classes and promote general awareness of health for a healthier workforce."

And with a touch of reality.

"I'm a baker," Cox confesses. "I like chocolate. You've got to have a little chocolate."

And a lot of running.