August 30, 2017
By: Kristi Fulkerson
Last week I had a chance to meet and learn the life story (cliff notes version) of Lehigh wide receiver Sasha Kelsey. A humble, driven, and passionate 22-year-old who had a difficult childhood (which he sees as anything but), an injury-filled career (admittedly frustrating) — but has excelled nonetheless.
It was game day against Villanova one year ago that Sasha Kelsey’s nagging injury became too much to handle. This Saturday, the Lehigh senior will take the field against the Wildcats after a difficult rehab stint.
“Even six weeks ago, [playing against] Villanova was not an option,” said Lehigh head trainer Eric Markovcy, “He’s just a tough kid, his heart is big and his toughness is through the roof.”
Sasha was forced to redshirt his junior season, playing in one game before a ongoing leg injury became too much to handle. What was believed to be a hamstring issue turned out to be much more serious. After 3+ years of pain and wrong diagnoses, Sasha underwent major surgery in April for a hip fracture. But in a matter of four months the Lehigh wideout is ready for competition.
“Without struggle you can’t advance,” said Markovcy, something he tells to all of his athletes. “Sasha’s had a ton of struggle in his life which made him advance moreso than most individuals.”
Growing up in Russia, Sasha was abandoned by his birth parents at a young age. He became a child of Orphanage 53 in St. Petersburg where he’d live until being adopted by the Kelsey family from Atlanta, Georgia at age 10.
Sasha’s road to becoming a Mountain Hawk has been difficult at times - physically and emotionally - but he takes pride in his past and says it provides motivation on and off the field. The 22-year-old Lehigh student-athlete has raised over four thousand dollars for his former orphanage, providing soccer cleats and balls and Christmas gifts for the children. He and teammate Troy Pelletier also do 53 push-ups each night in their honor.
The tattoo on his right arm is a reminder of his sister, Marina, who is five years older and still lives in Russia. As his legal guardian in 2004, she approved his U.S. adoption request, allowing him the opportunity to live a better life. Marina and Sasha reconnected over the Internet recently but can only talk a few times a year.
“I think about her all the time, she definitely drives me,” Sasha said, pointing to his right arm. “She has a daughter now, Milana, and my older brother who passed three or four years ago, he left a little daughter, too. So I have two nieces in Russia that hopefully I can get back here someday.”
When he steps on the field Saturday, Sasha will wear No. 1 for the Mountain Hawks but deep down it’s No. 53 he’s playing for.
The full story on Sasha Kelsey aired on our debut of ‘Lehigh Sports Central’ Monday 8/28, see the clip later this week on lehighsports.com