Kirby Kelly has an unusual life for a teenager.
The Algonquin native spends weeks at a time away from her family, either training in Colorado with her snowboarding team, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, or traveling to snowboarding competitions across the country.
On Sunday, the 15-year-old will embark on her first international trip with Team USA to compete in the 2011 FIS Snowboard Junior World Championship in Valmalenco, Italy.
"I was super excited when I found out," Kirby said. "It was my goal for this year to make the Junior Worlds team. It is very exciting, and a little bit overwhelming, because I've never been out of the country."
Kirby will compete in the half pipe event on April 2, just four days before her 16th birthday.
When she's gone, she says, she misses her parents, Joe and Sherry, and her two younger brothers. "I do travel a lot. At the beginning of the year I was in Colorado for a month. When there are Revolution (snowboarding) tours, I'm usually gone around a week," she said. "I do it because it's not one of those high school sports that everyone does. I just love it, because it's so fun."
This school year Kirby's schedule was so busy that she started taking online classes through Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. The school's online program is reserved for a handful of students "with rare circumstances," said Assistant Principal for Student Services Basilio Salazar.
Her father, Joe Kelly, said Kirby is a level-headed, trustworthy girl. "I can count on one hand how many times I've heard her swear," he said.
Earning good grades is a prerequisite to snowboarding, Joe Kelly said. "If her grades started slipping, we'd look at other alternative," he said. "Both my kids (Kirby and middle child C.J., who takes part in skateboarding competitions) realize that the better they do in school, they more they get the opportunity to do things."
Kirby started snowboarding at age 9 at Raging Buffalo Snowboard Park in Algonquin, where she now gives lessons to help pay for travel expenses. Sponsorships and prize money also help defray some of the costs, her dad said.
This summer, Kirby wants to go to New Zealand with her coach to take part in a snowboarding competition to kick off the season.
And her long-term goal?
"I'm hoping to get to the point when I am really being considered to be on the Olympic team," Kirby said. "If I fall short but I still get super-close, that would be awesome."