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'Amazing Race' ends for local grandmother

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com
Jody Kelly, left, then 71, and granddaughter Shannon Foster, then 22, competed in the CBS show 'Amazing Race.' Kelly was happy that they weren't the first team eliminated.

In the end, a cake-baking challenge did them in.

Jody Kelly, a Round Rock grandmother and the oldest contestant ever to appear on "The Amazing Race," got kicked in the head while milking a cow, then couldn't find an outdoor pantry where butter and flour were kept.

And so, Kelly and her 22-year-old granddaughter, Shannon Foster, were eliminated Feb. 21 , the second team booted off the 16th season of the popular CBS television reality show in which teams race around the world, competing in physical and mental challenges as they vie for a $1 million prize.

Besides Kelly and Foster, this season's competition featured 10 other two-person teams, including a pair of police detectives from Rhode Island, a lesbian couple and former Miss Teen USA pageant contestant Caite Upton, who famously flubbed her answer when asked why a fifth of Americans can't locate the United States on a map.

Kelly, who was 71 at the time of filming late last fall, slept on her living room floor and in her car before the race to get used to being outside her comfort zone. She ran, walked carrying a weighted backpack, and toned up her gray matter, practicing Sudoku puzzles and brain twisters before the competition. She and Foster also participated in three local adventure races to hone their skills.

"I'm sure they didn't expect much (from us)," Kelly says.

Kelly's goals were to have fun (she did), not be the first team eliminated (they were not) and not scream at her granddaughter (she didn't, at least not on camera).

"It's amazing to be 50 years apart in age and able to communicate reasonably well," Kelly says.

The experience wasn't at all glamorous, she says, and involved a lot of sleeping on buses and mediocre airplane meals.

Filming started in late November in Los Angeles. Contestants had to take public transportation from the start to the airport, then fly to Miami and, from there, on to Chile. Early on, Kelly twisted her ankle on a cobblestone street. Endorphins kicked in, though, and she outran a 47-year-old in Miami before getting her ankle taped.

Kelly says the physical challenges she did were not as hard as she expected, and her team wasn't eliminated because of a lack of strength. Instead, Kelly lost too much time in the cake-baking contest when she couldn't find all the ingredients.

"Where would you expect to find a pantry? In the kitchen — not 50 feet outside in a separate building," she says.

Kelly, who describes herself as a recovering couch potato, has a late blooming background in fitness. She took up weight training when she was 58 and later became a personal trainer who specializes in working with elderly clients through her business, Strengthmobile. Her oldest client was 100 years old.

Kelly entered her first triathlon in August 2007 and has done 14 more since then, including one alongside her daughter and granddaughter. "Once I discovered my body, I wanted to use it," she says. She has plans to do her first Half Ironman triathlon — a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run — in the next year.

"I did want to show that just because you're over 70 don't think you have to get in a rocking chair — get out and do stuff. You might have 20 or 30 years left. Get up. Shock your kids. How do you want them to remember you? Sitting there or going out and doing crazy stuff?"

Foster, a former Georgetown resident, now lives in Alaska, where she works as a healthcare outreach contract analyst and hopes to become a doctor or physicians assistant.

On the television show's Web site, Kelly said her pet peeve about her granddaughter is "sometimes her clothing choices seem a bit too revealing." Foster's pet peeve about her teammate? "Grandma can get a bit uptight at times and has a tendency to get carried away."

During the race, the two rode public trains, took airplanes, caught rides on funiculars and ran carrying backpacks that weighed 21.5 pounds to get from point to point.

"We were lagging behind right from the beginning," Kelly says. "But we were still in there."

From Santiago, Chile, they took a bus to Valparaiaso, where Foster crept across a high wire strung over a harbor while Kelly made her way through an urban valley carrying two backpacks.

Before they were eliminated from the game, the team had to haul painting supplies down a street until they found a house to paint and decorate a llama ("I wasted a lot of time trying to calm the animals with offers of food and cooing at them," Kelly says).

After a grueling 13-hour bus ride to Puerto Varas, Chile, they faced their final fateful challenge — making a cake. Kelly had to go all over a farm collecting ingredients. She filled her pockets with eggs gathered from a hen house, milked cows (and got kicked in the head by one) but couldn't find flour or butter, which was stored in a shed in the backyard.

"Who keeps butter outdoors? A cultural assumption did me in," she says.

She took the loss hard and shed a few tears.

After Kelly and Foster were eliminated, other teams headed on to the rest of the world.

The hardest part of being on the show, she says, was the physical stress and fatigue of travel. Still, the experience reminded her how much she loves to explore.

"I thought my traveling days were over," says Kelly, who spent a few years living in Thailand and Taiwan. "But my travel itch is not sufficiently scratched. I want to see things. I want to experience a lot more things. The race showed me I can do this, even by myself."

She's harboring a secret desire to drive from Austin all the way to Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America. She wants to see more of the United States, and revisit Germany, where she lived for a year as a girl.

"I've gone from couch potato to Amazing Racer in three years. That's got to be some kind of a record," she says.