Kelly Miyahara: Anything is possible

Kelly Miyahara

Foster alumna Kelly Miyahara working on the set of Jeopardy!

Category: Fascinating Fosters for $2000

Answer: Serendipitous member of Jeopardy! Clue Crew and unexpected Ironman triathlete

Question: Who is Kelly Miyahara?

Miyahara (BA 2000) would be the first to admit she was born to do neither—that is, travel the world recording visual clues for the nation’s iconic game show nor compete in the world’s preeminent test of extreme endurance.

Blessed (and cursed) with infinite interests, Miyahara graduated from Foster not quite sure what to do with her degree. Around vagabond spells in Europe, she began building a career at Nordstrom. She had just been promoted to customer service manager of a Los Angeles store in 2004 when the phone rang early one Sunday morning.

It was her mother, a schoolteacher and long-time Jeopardy! devotee, beyond excited to tell her daughter about an open casting call for the show’s Clue Crew.

Why not her?

Miyahara decided on a lark to try out. She composed her crude audition tape on a 1984 camcorder. But, to her eternal surprise, she made the first cut of the nationwide talent search. Then a second. Then a third.

“Looking around at these professional actors I thought, I don’t belong here,” she admits. “But it actually worked to my advantage because the only thing I could be was myself. And it turns out that’s what they were looking for.”

Ever since, Miyahara has traveled the world, recording Jeopardy! “answers” on location—often exotic location—as well as representing the program on tour and delivering “Classroom Jeopardy!” to schools across America.

The past decade has been a whirlwind. She has recorded clues amid the swirl of Times Square and at the gates of an Ancient Cambodian temple, aboard an America’s Cup yacht careening across San Francisco Bay and on a jetting duckie captained by Australia’s legendary Bondi Beach Lifesavers. A USO tour of Japan with host Alex Trebek helped her reconnect with her family heritage. A South African safari found her working among a pride of lions in the wild. And a Jeopardy! fan cruise gave her occasion to stroll among the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands.

“So many places I would never have had the opportunity to see without Jeopardy!” she says. “I have to pinch myself every day. This is my job! What I do for a living!”

Never say never

The experience has emboldened Miyahara to go after her interests and dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.

Exhibit A: triathlon. A string of catastrophic knee injuries that began in high school had ended promising soccer and softball careers; doctors had warned her to avoid running for the rest of her days.

But a few years ago some friends were doing a triathlon for charity. Miyahara thought she would swim, bike, then just walk. “I should have known better,” she admits. “I’m competitive, and I just kept pushing.”

She pushed that knee farther and farther, eventually training for a full Ironman—2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run—alongside a growing coterie of teammates who became close friends.

One of the closest was a woman named Marisela Echeverria, with whom Miyahara made a quixotic pact: if either got the chance to go to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, they would go together. But on a training ride the very day of the 2012 Ironman Kona, Echeverria was hit by a bus and died.

“I decided to find a way to keep that promise,” Miyahara says.

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Her only hope was a program called “Kona Inspired” that awards seven spots for athletes whose stories are more compelling than their qualifying times. The program’s motto was her own: “anything is possible.”

Kelly’s story was Mari. Friends from her Team In Training Ironteam helped produce her entry video which went viral. Its inspiration touched hearts around the globe, helping raise more than $31,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And Miyahara booked a ticket to Kona, supported by 40 members of “Team Mari.”

When she finally crossed the finish line long after dark on October 13, it hit her that the experience was so much more than a race. “I didn’t realize how much healing was happening until afterward,” she recalls. “That weight that we had all felt since Mari died just lifted. We all had this incredible sense of peace. I think she did, too.”

Next start?

Miyahara plans to continue racing, though at distances more sensible for her compromised joints. She has signed on to be an assistant coach for her local Team In Training and will compete with the Sony Triathlon team, attempting to help her studio win the entertainment industry’s Malibu Triathlon in September.

And she hopes to ride her luck at Jeopardy! as long as it holds.

“I know that I have the best job in the world,” she says. “But I also know that it’s not going to last forever. So I’m trying to prepare myself for what’s next.”

That means creating opportunities out of her interests. And there are many. Miyahara would like to develop positive TV programming, do animation voice-overs, write a children’s book, develop an athletic clothing line for real-sized women, create a line of greeting cards, found a non-profit.

Miyahara may have detoured from management to entertainment, but might she eventually fuse the two? “Let’s see what I can make happen,” she says. “Anything is possible.”