FROM GATEWAY: Motorcycle Racer. Pilot. PA Student. 2023 Grad is ‘Chasing New Passions’

This story appears in the latest issue of Gateway Magazine. Find all of our issues here

By Ryan Clark and Sara Pisoni
CHS Contributors

You could say that 23-year-old Kelsey Markle has a need.

A need for speed.

And if you don’t get that reference, then you really need to see Top Gun, or the Top Gun sequel, as the quote suggests a certain main character’s necessity to push the envelope in life, to seek out adventure in a myriad of ways, most notably as a Navy fighter pilot.

Markle, a native of Shelbyville, Ky., has a similar thirst for the extreme. She’s an avid pilot, as well as racer of motorcycles. She snowboards and rock climbs.

And, perhaps most hair-raising of all, she navigated her way through the College of Health Sciences’ Physician Assistant Studies program as a graduate in 2023. 

A surprise to no one, Markle was voted “Most Likely to Need an Adrenaline Rush,” and she took a regional job in emergency medicine, where the position fulfills a bit of her need for fast-paced action.

But how did she learn to fly? Why did she want to be a PA? We learn that and other information as we ask five questions … of PA Graduate Kelsey Markle:

1. Why UK and PA?

I went to UK for undergrad and majored in Human Health Sciences, graduating a semester early in December 2020 and starting PA school in January 2021.

I chose UK for undergrad and PA school because I loved the campus. It was close to home, but it's also in a relatively safe city. I actually grew up a little outside of Shelbyville on some property where we had no neighbors, so I definitely wanted a change and wanted to be “in” a city rather than having to drive 20 minutes into town just to get some groceries. So, UK was a great choice to give me a new experience.

I knew I wanted to be a PA since I was in high school. I’ve always been interested in medicine, and I loved the mental challenge that came with the detection work of properly diagnosing/treating someone. I also loved the idea of being able to change specialties, which you can’t do very easily if you’re a physician.

2. How did you first get into these adrenaline-rushing activities?

Since I grew up on some wooded property, I always had a little dirt bike that I played around on outside. When I turned 16, I decided I wanted a “real” motorcycle and so I bought my first street bike. Riding on the street was fun but being young, female, and in a rural area it was hard to find a community and people to enjoy it with. I’ve always been a bit of a daredevil, and somewhat competitive, so the idea of getting to combine my love for motorcycles with my love of adrenaline and competition drew me to racing. I did my first “track day” (which is kind of a practice where you go to a racetrack and learn how to safely go at race speeds, but it’s not a competition) in August 2018, on my 19th birthday.

A funny little tidbit about this is that they assigned me a random number for my bike, and they gave me number 19. I took this as a sign that this really was meant to be for me. At the end of the day, I had absolutely fallen in love and was all-in on the idea of racing. At the end of the season, I bought a designated race bike, a 2016 Yamaha R3. I spent the winter painting it with the help of my dad to make it my own, and when it got warm outside, I went hard on track days preparing to do my first race. I did my first race in August 2019 and got second place!

3. What made you want to keep doing it?

Something that has kept me coming back to racing, is the community.

I have met so many people who have become so close to me and are like true family now. It’s kind of hard not to form a close bond with people you’re risking your life with. PA school has made it very difficult to find time to race or get out and practice at a track day, but my friends are the ones who make sure I don’t lose this part of me for the sake of studying.

Apart from this, I love racing because it gives me a huge sense of accomplishment, and when you’re on the racetrack there is no time to think about anything else except the 20 feet in front of you. You really get into a “zone” where you’re not even thinking about what you’re doing, it’s just pure observation and reaction. It also has instilled confidence in me to know that when things are getting fast or difficult or chaotic, I make safe and sound decisions.

4. So … how did you become a pilot?

My dad is a hobby pilot, and he particularly enjoys flying ultralight planes, so I was always exposed to the idea of flying growing up, but it wasn’t until my first semester of PA school that I decided I wanted to try it for myself.

I think I really just needed something other than PA school to focus on, and take my mind off of it. Everyone definitely thought I was insane when I decided to learn to fly, which is very complicated and comes with its own online “ground” school, and lots of extra studying, while in my first year of PA school, but I was excited.

There were times where it was very difficult juggling PA school and learning to fly, but I still enjoyed pushing the limits of what’s comfortable and learning something new. I started flight training at the Frankfort airport, but a few months after I started learning to fly, I became a co-owner in a 1976 Piper Archer II, so I then did the rest of my training at the Bardstown airport in my own airplane.

I earned my pilot’s license about a year after I started, as a second year PA student. Of course, there’s times when school gets busy and I don’t fly, but I also have found a great community in aviation that keeps me coming back. The thing I enjoy the most about flying is, again, the sense of challenge and that there is so much going on, you don’t have time to worry about anything else. You’re forced to be present and enjoy the moment.

5. What will you remember most about your time at UK?

I’ve really loved chasing new passions and having new hobbies to take my mind off the stress of PA school, and the friends I’ve made along the way are ones I’ll have for a lifetime.