Natural athlete turns love into career
CLARENDON HILLS – One could say Kelly Smith’s career started when she was only 6 years old.
And it may have been the words of her P.E. teacher, Jim Wondergym, believe it or not, who got her started in the recreation field.
“It’s crazy. I tell everyone that really was his name,” said the new superintendent of recreation at the Clarendon Hills Park District.
Growing up in Belvidere, Smith participated and scored well in school during the presidential fitness test.
It was after that when Mr. Wondergym told her mom about a summer running
From then on, a love of sports would blossom for Smith as she continued to participate in not only track, but an array of other sports.
“I was on track, swimming and then when I went into middle school I played volleyball and basketball and then continued volleyball through high school,” Smith said. “But track also always being the lead sport.”
Running would continue for Smith into college where, like a regulation track, it would lead her life full circle as she started to think about recreational activities as a career.
“I hadn’t considered recreation, I thought I was going to be an educator and my track coach directed me to recreation when I was at Illinois State and I’ve never looked back,” she said.
Smith received a Bachelor of Science in recreation and a master’s in administration. Over the course of her career, Smith has worked with the Belvidere Park District, Bloomington Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girls Club of Livingston County, YMCA of Stanislaus County in California, Mundelein Park District and at Morton Grove Park District before recently joining Clarendon Hills.
“What I like about Clarendon Hills is it’s a small community,” she said. “I can be involved in making some direct impacts as an administrator, but I’m also leading the youth basketball program on Saturday and have contact with all the families.”
Aside from helping with recreational sports, Smith will also have leadership and responsibility with the Active Learners Preschool, the Lions Park Pool, the Rainbow Club and arts programming.
“That’s the great thing about recreation is that every day is different,” she said. “You may have a plan, you may have a list of things to do, but every day is exciting.”
Smith said she also enjoys the recreation field because it’s not a typical career path.
There’s teamwork involved every day and talking with other park districts to share ideas and implement resources. She said the Clarendon Hills Park District has several programs that offer countless benefits for the community, families and lifetime memories for kids that she looks forward to being a part of.
“I started running at my park district at 6 and it paid for college, so you don’t know what you’re going to find in crafts projects, or fitness or at the preschool,” she said. “We offer so much as a resource for families to improve and benefit their lives.”