Players of Pride Hall: Kelly Eaton ‘06

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“Tenacity and grit are inexplicable traits that you glean from being an athlete. We don’t throw in the towel when things get tough. Being a student-athlete taught me how to stay focused and driven and work towards long-term goals. That carries over to so much—not just in my career, but in my relationships,” said 2006 M-A graduate Kelly Eaton. Eaton, Stanford ‘10, played college water polo and is now the Solutions Sales Manager at Elsevier, a large scientific publishing company. Eaton was inducted into the M-A Hall of Fame in 2014 for water polo.

Eaton and Noah Bennett in the yearbook

Eaton’s water polo career began when she outgrew Little League Baseball. She said, “I have a brother who is a year younger and also went to M-A, played water polo, and swam. My parents threw us into the same stuff all the time growing up. In elementary school, I was the only girl on the Alpine Little League Baseball team with my brother.” She described herself as a “total tomboy growing up. I had the classic buck teeth and short hair.”

Eaton grew up in Maui and attributes her initial swimming skills to that. Eaton said, “In 7th grade, my dad said, ‘Girls aren’t allowed to progress in baseball. Why don’t you try water polo next?’” Eaton started playing at the Stanford Water Polo Club at 11 years old. She said, “I got really good, really fast. When I came to M-A I started playing there too.” With the combination of a strong arm from baseball and being a fast swimmer, her career was born.

Eaton walked into M-A as a young but strong athlete. “I came in as the only freshman on varsity,” she said, “A lot of the juniors were probably thinking, ‘Who is this girl? Why is she starting?’ It was a little tough fitting into the team with all the girls who are older than me. But there was one senior that lived on the same street as me and she would drive me to school every day. I just remember feeling so cool because she liked me, and that was my saving grace. She and her friends would tell me, ‘Don’t listen to the juniors, they’re just jealous of you.’”

Eaton with her teammates

With that, she was able to thrive on the team. “When I joined the team we weren’t that good. But every year we just got better.” As MVP all four years, Eaton said, “I dealt with the jealousy by just being a really positive person and killing everyone with kindness.”

When it came to college recruitment, she found her way to Stanford by getting her name out to coaches. “I think the coaches pretty much knew who I was because I had the luxury of water polo not being a massive sport. Playing at higher-level tournaments and just being in the Bay Area, at championships or games there would be college coaches watching. The summer before my senior year I got the ‘pink letter’ from Stanford, and I was in by October.”

The ‘pink letter’ is an unofficial college application that informs a few recruits from each sports team that Stanford is interested in them. While unofficial, it is extremely meaningful for recruits.

Eaton also succeeded academically. She said her focus in high school was “maintaining the absolute best I could in both academics and athletics. That was always just natural—no one ever told me to do that.”

Going into Stanford, she kept her academic focus. “At Stanford, I studied neurobiology, which sounds like a pretty intimidating topic to dive into, especially from such a high-profile institution. But I loved AP Biology in high school, I could not wait to do my homework, and felt like I really wanted to do this. I didn’t know what career it would become.”

Now, Eaton works at the world’s largest scientific publishing company, Elsevier. “I’m kind of steered away from the labs, mainly because I’m a people person. I love the aspect of my job where I get to travel for work, seeing the world on my company’s dime is the best. I love my job. The majority of my peers that are in the same stage of life as me can’t say that.”

Eaton’s senior portrait in the yearbook

When it came time for the 2014 Hall of Fame induction, Eaton was an easy pick. She said, “After graduating from Stanford I moved to New York City, and my former coach reached out and told me, ‘I’m nominating you for the Hall of Fame committee.’ I think I got nominated not only because I was good at water polo, but because I was a good swimmer too. During water polo games, I was the fastest person that sprinted for the ball at the beginning.” 

Eaton broke numerous PAL swimming records, including the 100 backstroke, 400 relay, and 200 individual medley. Eaton said, “The nomination was a combination of the fact that I was a multi-sport athlete, I was captain of the team for a number of years, and I was voted MVP all four years.”

Now, Eaton continues to play water polo. Residing in Newport Beach, she and a former UCLA player formed a Masters club team for 30–40-year-olds called “Shores” to play in Masters Nationals and send a team to the World Masters Championship Tournament every two years. She said, “Despite performing at a fraction of my former level, it’s incredible to be able to continue to be involved with the sport I love with teammates older and younger who formerly played overseas, in the Olympics and against me in our youth, but now we can team up.” Together, they aim to “inspire other women in water polo to continue to play and be involved.”

Eaton attributes water polo to “shaping me into the woman that I am today. I stopped right after college when I moved to New York City because I was burned out. But soon after I ended up joining the New York Athletic Club.” There, Eaton would meet her husband. 

Eaton and her husband

Water polo, she said, “brought me my teammates and a community, who I will know for the rest of my life. We share that connection of being on a team. Water polo brought me health and wellness, and I stayed in really good shape. It also brought me to my husband, who is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

Eaton said, “I would relate my overall success in life to my work ethic. It’s more than what you do, it’s the work ethic.”

Reflecting on what water polo taught her, Eaton said, “My answer changes over time, but what comes to mind is that in this generation of kids and young adults there is a lot of instant gratification, for whatever reason. I think being a high-level athlete develops the ability to work towards long-term goals, with little payoff or rewards—the ability to work tirelessly for months, sometimes even years. At Stanford, every year our goal was to win NCAAs. We got second, second, third, and then second each year I was on the team. But we kept working towards it, and we tried to improve and develop ourselves as a team year round.”

Tessa is a junior in her second year of journalism. She enjoys co-writing for the Bears Doing Big Things column and the social trends happening at M-A. Tessa also enjoys playing tennis and is on the varsity team.

Celeste is a junior in her second year of journalism. She is the co-writer of the weekly column Bears Doing Big Things, featuring alumni. She also is a copy-editor and manages the publication's Spanish translations and social media. She enjoys covering issues affecting the M-A community through features and writing Bear Bites about local restaurants. Her story on La Biscotteria was recognized as a top-10 NSPA Blog Post of 2023.

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