‘She is the epitome of whole-person leadership’

Derik Vanderford Staff Writer

October 15, 2013

SPARTANBURG — A Union County High School graduate has continued on a pathway of success as an ROTC cadet at Wofford College.

As a student at Union County High School, Tommy McKelvey excelled in academics as well as extracurricular activities, but her primary focus was her role as a JROTC cadet and how that would shape her future. During all four years of high school, McKelvey was named the top physical female cadet. She knew she wanted to go on to attend a college which offered ROTC, rifle team and band.

Upon her high school graduation in 2012, McKelvey was awarded a four-year Active Duty National Army ROTC scholarship — a full ride to Wofford College for four years.

McKelvey said she enjoyed her freshman year at Wofford, but she felt she slacked off in the way of her physical conditioning. While she was home over the summer, McKelvey talked with her uncle — Chad Rollins — who she said had lost weight and transformed his body. McKelvey said she and her uncle came up with a fitness and nutrition regimen. She sticks to a high-protein diet — eating six or seven times a day, staying away from fried or unhealthy foods and getting plenty of green veggies. She also works out virtually every day, beginning with cardio — sprinting, walking, and running on an elliptical machine — and alternating between strenuous arm/shoulder and abdominal workouts with weights.

When she began this school year, she maxed out her first PT test.

“Some people were shocked that I maxed it because we had just come back,” McKelvey said.

To “max out” means that McKelvey exceeded the physical requirements for a perfect score. For example, she would have had to do 42 push-ups for a perfect score, but she did 70. For sit-ups, she had to max 78, but she did 112. Her scores exempt McKelvey from regular work-outs with other cadets, and she is only required to take PT tests each month. She continues to push herself to improve, and from last month to this month, she has increased her sit-ups by 12, her push-ups by 10, and cut 51 seconds off of her two-mile run.

“I’m beating a lot of the males in PT,” McKelvey said, explaining that males and females have separate standards, but her push-ups are comptetive with male cadets’ numbers. “A lot of the males were really impressed.”

McKelvey has the highest physical fitness score in the entire Cadet Battalion, scoring 371 points on the extended scale of the Army Physical Fitness Test, which is 71 points higher than a perfect score.

McKelvey’s best known college achievement, however, is from her performance as a Division I Rifle Team Marksman. During last year’s season, she set a Wofford College record for the highest individual score — 586 points — at the South Eastern Air Rifle Conference (SEARC) hosted at The Citadel.

That led to McKelvey being awarded the 2013 Bosscars (Wofford’s awards for student athletes) Female Rookie of the Year award.

During Saturday’s football game at Wofford, McKelvey was recognized as Cadet of the Game.

“Her excellence is not only demonstrated on the rifle range; she excels in academics maintaining a 3.38 grade point average,” said Wofford College Army ROTC Enrollment and Scholarship Officer Simon Stricklen. “The Southern Guards Battalion congratulates Tommy for her leadership in the classroom, as an ROTC Cadet, and on the rifle range as a Wofford Terrier.”

UCHS JROTC instructor Col. John Odell said he is proud, but certainly not surprised to hear of McKelvey’s success at Wofford College.

“While at UCHS, she commanded the JROTC Battalion; led the JROTC leadership team to a second place national finish; led the rifle team to a seventh place finish in the Army JROTC national match; and had the highest score in physical fitness among all females for four straight years,” Odell said. “She is the epitome of whole-person leadership.”

McKelvey is majoring in Chinese, which was a stipulation of her four-year scholarship. Although she hadn’t thought of majoring in Chinese until she learned about the scholarship, she has enjoyed her learning experience. She can now speak, read and write Chinese.

“It’s a critical language for the military, so it works out,” McKelvey said. “The sentence structure is different, and one word can be pronounced four different ways and mean four different things. It’s getting easier, building off what I’ve already learned.”

McKelvey said she would like to be a Military Intelligence officer after college.

“Maybe I could be sent to China and use my Chinese skills,” she said, adding that she would be able to read and interpret Chinese documents. “If you don’t use it, you tend to lose it, and I would hate to put in all this effort to learn it and not use it in the field.”