He rides his bicycle anywhere from 100 to 120 miles per week. He also runs 20 to 35 miles per week and adds another two to six miles in the swimming pool.
And Lt. Col. Kelly Donna does all of this simply because he loves it.
|Lt. Col. Kelly Donna, head of UAB’s ROTC program, says the program gives cadets an opportunity to gain practical experience and receive financial assistance for college.
“I’ve always had an extreme personality,” says Donna, professor of military science and head of UAB’s Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) program. “I guess you could say I never needed any help being motivated.”
Donna’s relentless drive is a perfect fit for an ROTC program with the goal of shaping the leaders of tomorrow.
“Whether they decide to stay in the program and join the Army or go into the business world, we develop leaders,” Donna says. “We have to train, shape and work these kids into being leaders. It’s not something that’s natural for many people.”
As a two-tour Iraq veteran, pilot and a Bronze Star recipient, Donna is comfortable in his role as a leader. He’s also had the opportunity to serve with other leaders and learn from them.
The two traits he says are most important in a leader are initiative and integrity.
“The initiative, the can-do attitude, selfless service — all of that goes into being a leader,” he says. “We need leaders who are self-starters and willing to learn.”
The ROTC program
UAB’s ROTC program began in fall 1980 and was designated by the federal government as a host institution in 1983. Students from Samford, Miles, Montevallo, Birmingham-Southern and Jefferson State also can be part of the program.
The program currently has 122 cadets, and those interested in joining the ROTC do not have to sign up for the U.S. Army, Army Reserves or National Guard.
“You can test it out first and see if it’s for you,” Donna says. “There’s no contract required initially. If you decide to stay, you have to sign a contract your junior year, and you go into the Army Reserves, National Guard or active duty as a second lieutenant.”
The ROTC program gives cadets an opportunity to gain practical experience and receive financial assistance for college. The program enables cadets to compete for scholarships to pay for tuition, books and a stipend. All contracted students receive a monthly living allowance.
It also gives students the opportunity to compete in events such as the Ranger Challenge at Ft. Benning, Ga. The Ranger Challenge is the Army’s ROTC varsity sport, which tests the top cadets in the country in a tough 72-hour, mental and physical competition. This year’s challenge took place Oct. 22-25 and pitted the best of UAB’s cadets against 42 other college and university ROTC squads in events including marksmanship skills, fitness test, water obstacles, land navigation, 10k road march, weapons assembly, obstacle course and written tests.
Running the Tri-Blazers
Many of the students participating in the Ranger Challenge have joined Donna in another endeavor — the UAB Tri-Blazers.
The Tri-Blazers are UAB’s triathlon team. Donna formed the team after the Army stationed him at UAB 18 months ago. By November 2008 he had 22 cadets on the team. Now he has 42 team members who are recognized as a collegiate team by the USA Triathlon (USAT).
“When I was stationed here I said to myself if there’s not a triathlon team here, I’m going to make one,” he says. “I started competing in triathlons in 1988. I’m 42 now, and it’s a challenge, but I love it.”
All UAB faculty, staff, students and alumni are eligible to be members of the team. The team will compete in the 2010 national championship April 17, in Lubbock, Texas.
Only a few members of the team run faster than Donna — something he says motivates the team’s members.
“When you have an old man out there in front of you, that’s motivation to get faster,” he says.
Donna was a member of the 2007 All-Army Olympic Triathlon Team and is a USAT- certified coach. He has participated in numerous triathlons, averaging a time of two hours 11 minutes for the Olympic distance.
Donna also has participated in two Iron Man 70.3 series events, including the national championship in Tuscaloosa this past August. In those events, Donna had to complete a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. He did it in five hours and 28 minutes.
“I made the cut for the national championships at 42 years old,” he says. “That was a goal for me this year, no doubt.”
What is the hardest part of competing? Donna says it’s different for each individual, but for him, age and injury are quickly becoming key obstacles; his body is beginning to betray him after years of pounding.
“The swim used to be the most difficult aspect for me, but it has grown tremendously,” Donna says. “I have sciatic nerve damage now, so running has become harder. I’ve always been a strong runner, so it’s hard to watch that slip away. But when you’ve been in the sport this long, it’s hard on your body.”
Don’t expect Donna to leave the sport, however. He intends to coach the Tri-Blazers as long as he is at UAB and plans to develop his business Tri-3 Basics, a boot camp for tri-athletes.
“I’ve learned a lot along the way, and my job is to pass that along,” Donna says. “It’s just like with military. I’ve got 24 years of experience in the Army I can pass along to the cadets and 22 years of experience in triathlons that I can pass on to the Tri-Blazers.”
Contact Jennifer Scott at email@example.com or 934-8749 to learn more about the ROTC program. Contact Donna at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining the Tri-Blazers team.