At 17, Kelly Isaac became enthralled with watching patrons of a local hall shoot pool.
She observed their games intently—studying their stances, bridges, successful shots, and frustrating misses. It was only a matter of time before she gave in to the pull of bright green felt and vibrantly colored balls.
Bob Dilley, the owner of the pool hall, complimented Kelly on her “natural stroke.” Those few, unsolicited words of encouragement were the platform upon which Kelly built her highly successful pool career.
At 19, Kelly entered a pool tournament at Billy’s USA Bar and grill in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Although she finished one spot below the money round, she received an award as the top female placer. Walking home, with a shiny new trophy clutched in her hands, a fire for competition blazed deep within Kelly’s gut.
The pool table was where she belonged.
Kelly continued to improve her game over the next few years, streaming video of competitions, absorbing as much as she could from watching the pros.
At 22, Kelly stepped away from the pool table to care for her ailing mother—only picking up her cue to play an occasional game during her shift at work. Her mother ultimately lost her battle with cancer, and a devastated Kelly struggled to regain the love she once had for pool.
Kelly’s hiatus came to an abrupt end in 2011, when a larger than life Kentucky Colonel and Scorpion blew into town for an exhibition. Sitting on the edge of her seat, watching Nick Varner and Johnny Archer’s incredible skill, Kelly’s love affair with pool was rekindled.
With renewed vigor, Kelly began practicing seven days a week—approaching the table with commitment and purpose. To keep her body functioning at its peak, Kelly planned her diet as any athlete would; maintaining a clean and healthy food intake. At any given time, a protein bar could be found tucked away within her pool case.
Although her dedication to her training is fervent, Kelly knows how to inject a little fun into her approach to pool. Sneak a listen to her practice music and you will find a whimsical playlist of 80’s love ballads. And nothing thrills Kelly more than placing her quarters on a bar box to make an unsuspecting bar patron pay for underestimating a woman.
Hungry for competition, Kelly traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada to compete in the 2014 BCA Championships. She knew that it took a specific type of player to overcome the nerves that debilitate many well-prepared competitors.
Kelly wanted to know: could she be that kind of player?
Cutting a swath through a group of tough female competitors, Kelly found herself going toe to toe with Ashea Erdahl in the Women’s 9 Ball Finals. With each ball pocketed, Kelly’s brow became increasingly furrowed and a steely glint flashed within her eyes. When the resounding thud of a perfectly pocketed final 9 ball, echoed across the table, it was by Kelly’s hand.
Winning the women’s 9 Ball Championships in straight sets, was confirmation that Kelly was indeed the type of player it took to be victorious.
Photo via Vincent Rochefort
Kelly was able to savor her victory for only a short time. She quickly found herself back at the table competing for the women’s 8 Ball championships. However, her run to the finals did not come without setbacks. Kelly was bumped to the one-loss bracket by Kris Chamberlin where she began her steady march toward the final’s hot seat position.
One of the top female Junior players in the country, April Larson, gave Kelly her biggest challenge in the semi-finals. Although their match came down to the wire, it was Kelly who ultimately took on an undefeated Chamberlin in the Finals.
With sage advice from well-respected pool icons echoing in her ears, and the fuel from one of her stashed protein bars in her belly, Kelly met Chamberlin at the table with a vengeance. In the end, an elated Kelly raised a championship trophy high above her head for the second time.
Today, those trophies hold court in an unfinished basement, alongside a 9 foot Diamond table in Kelly’s Ohio residence. The feeling of amazement that came with her double championship has faded into a surreal wonderment as she resumes her day to day life.
“It was mind-blowing to go from being an unknown to someone recognizable to players that I have looked up to for years,” Kelly says. “And I think that my husband is enjoying the attention from all the people of our small town.”
Fueled by her success, Kelly is excited to bring her playing to the next level. She has incorporated 10 ball, one pocket, and straight pool into her practice routine. “I think that straight pool prepares you for so many difficult situations that can pop up during a game.”
Kelly offers some advice to those lucky enough to meet her across the table for a game; never resort to stammered excuses and finger pointing when you lose. “That is my biggest pet peeve. You are not going to win every time. If you lose, it’s because your opponent played better, and you should tell them.”
Away from the table, Kelly enjoys golfing, photography, and travel. She is in the process of obtaining her real estate license and looks forward to beginning a new chapter of her professional career.
No one can argue that fewer stars are shining brighter in the pool universe than that of Kelly Isaac. There is little doubt that her particular brand of unwavering dedication and fierce competitiveness will earn her countless future championships.
Photo: Via Vincent Rochefort Editor: Dana Gornall