Senior Kelsie Bornholtz vividly remembers the day her great-grandfather passed away. It was Father’s Day, June of the summer before her freshman year. He lived far away in Iowa, so she had phoned him, as she did every weekend to tell him about her week. His daughter, Bornholtz’s grandmother, had told her he was napping, and to call back later. She’d been busy, the call had slipped her mind and he had passed away that night.
“It was one of those things where you just don’t really believe it happened, you think ‘I’m just going to wake up from this dream and I’m going to call him when I wake up and he’s just going to be there,’” Bornholtz said. “And it doesn’t work that way. I’ve never been so impacted by a loss. My whole family was that way, but I was probably one of the ones hit the hardest by it.”
Bornholtz lives her life like any 17-year-old girl, but her experiences growing up have had a huge impact on the way she sees life today. The influence of her great-grandfather, as well as her parents’ divorce and the responsibility she’s had to take for her siblings, have all changed the way she looks at herself and her future . Because of them, Bornholtz doesn’t believe in limiting herself. She knows what she is capable of.
“Kelsie is a very determined person and I would say she is more academically determined than anything,” Bornholtz’s friend, senior Misha Smith, said. “She is determined to do what she puts her mind to, and if that means she has to be competitive, then she will be.”
Bornholtz was only in kindergarten, and her younger brother and sister just infants, still living in Remsen, a small town in Iowa, when her parents divorced, changing her life forever. Her mother was working to get her degree at the time, so now that there was only one adult in the house, Bornholtz took on a lot of responsibility for her siblings, acting as a kind of “second-mom.”
At 10 years old, Bornholtz had to pick up her brother and sister from a babysitter and walk them home. There she would make their dinner, do their homework with them and put them to bed. Her own bedtime was only 20 minutes later.
“To me divorce was a funny word,” Bornholtz said. “It was just something that we had to deal with. It was just ‘mom and dad don’t live together, and you have to watch your brother and sister on this day because we’re not around.’ But it definitely helped me grow up.”
When Bornholtz was in sixth grade, she moved with her mother and siblings to Kansas City, and her mother remarried. Her mother is home a lot more now, taking care of Bornholtz’s 7-month-old half-brother, Keith. Her father still lives in Iowa, with his wife and twin 3-year-old sons. Although she doesn’t have to look after them, Bornholtz still feels a lot of responsibility to what she calls her “second set” of siblings. Bornholtz says her role in the lives of her brother and sister when they were young still shows today.
Having been such a constant in her siblings’ lives, Bornholtz admits she’s apprehensive about next year, when she will become a freshman at K-State, and hopefully pursue a career in Sports Nutrition. Having spent almost her entire life being the role model of the family, she knows it’ll be her sister Kylie’s turn, and she worries about how they’ll manage without her.
Bornholtz’s personal competitiveness is another thing that makes her nervous for college. Being surrounded by others who also want to go into sports nutrition, Bornholtz knows it’s a tough environment. She wants to be the best, and she knows just how hard she’ll have to work to do that.
Her tendency to want to watch over people, and her desire to succeed, Bornholtz links back not only to her childhood, but also to her great-grandfather. She calls him her grandpa, the same way her father did. As a child, Bornholtz and her family would drive down on weekends to where he lived with her grandmother, in Salix, Iowa, and spend the days swimming in Browns Lake. When she got older and couldn’t always make it, she would still call him each Sunday, a tradition that continued when she moved to Kansas. To Bornholtz, he was her best friend for most of her life, and his life story had a big effect on the way she is today.
“My grandpa taught me to fight for everything I’ve ever wanted, and told me I could get it, so that’s what I’m out to do,” Bornholtz said.
Bornholtz’s great-grandfather was barely a teenager when he immigrated to the United States from Italy with his family. Bornholtz says his stubborn determination came from this, the way he grew up very poor in Iowa. He lived with his wife and three children in a house he built with his hands, never taking anything for granted, living what Bornholtz calls “the typical American dream.”
“And that toughness, that’s something that he just instilled in all of us,” Bornholtz said. “We are a very tough and competitive family, and that’s something we have to thank him for. Because it’s just who we are now.”
After he died, Bornholtz spent the next week in Iowa, with family. Surrounded by so many people, friends and relatives she hadn’t seen in years, she realized how many people her great-grandfather had impacted, how much love was there. He had worked so hard to create a life for himself and his family, and it had all paid off.
And, years later, Bornholtz hasn’t forgotten that. She wants to live her life for herself — get a tattoo, go skydiving, do anything and everything. And she knows that it’s all about having a goal, even if it changes every day, and working as hard as she can to get there. It’s about having the support of the people she loves, but ultimately knowing that when it comes down to it, she only needs to depend on herself.
“I think that that’s down to the way I was brought up, and how it made me,” Bornholtz said. “I’ve done a lot for only being a senior in high school and I just don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to do more. I’m excited to see what I can do.”