Aside from any circumstances,inside each and every one of us dwells the heart of a champion. It is something that must be sought out and discovered in order to become reality.Circumstances couldn’t be any more of an obstacle than they were for a young Dennis Hafemeister. His low self image stemmed mainly from an unstable home life, and an abusive alcoholic father. Despite having poor genetics as an athlete, his competitive nature led him to play for the football and basket ball teams at his small Wisconsin high school. It was during that time that he overheard his football coach joking to other players that he was the dumbest and worst athlete he had ever seen. As if things couldn’t be any worse, Dennis was forced to quit school at the age of sixteen to marry his high school sweet heart who had become pregnant. As could be expected, the marriage ended in a divorce by the time he had turned eighteen.
Things didn’t get much better after that. Dennis worked at a construction job that he hated, and most of all, he hated himself. All the while, he was haunted by the voices of his past, who had ridiculed him, and labeled him a loser. While in his early twenties, he came to a conclusion that it was time to prove to himself that those voices were wrong. Because she love to dance his girlfriend broke up with him to go with a ballroom dance instructor because he wouldn’t and couldn’t dance. After his mother who was and excellent dance tried to teach him to dance and came to the conclusion he had no rhythm and would never learn to dance, but driven to succeed he began taking dance classes at a local dance studio, and within a few short years became a renown ballroom dance instructor, and then a World Pro-Am Tango Champion. Simultaneously, he devoted free time to his hobby of drag racing, and built a reputable name as a track announcer. Eventually, he had his last name legally changed to Kelly in order to separate himself from his traumatic past. In the years after, he became one of the most successful people in the ballroom dance business, however being a busy, successful businessman had its’ drawbacks, however. Kelly had packed on fifty extra pounds, and let himself get severely out of shape during this period that also included several emotional setbacks, and failed marriages.
At the age of 35, Kelly, as he now preferred to be called, decided that once again the time had come to re-invent himself. He enrolled in martial arts classes, and set his sights on a new goal. Within a short time, his dedication and hard work ethic caused him to excel and become a fierce competitor. His background in dance earned him the nick name “Tango Man” from his martial arts peers. He continued to succeed in the dance business as well, until a bad investment in a chain of Disco Night Clubs caused him to lose everything. Now at 39, Kelly was starting over once again.
During the next several years, Kelly successfully rebuilt his fallen dance studio empire, and also became a Martial Arts phenomenon. All seemed well until the early 1990’s when someone fraudulently used his name to buy a dance studio franchise. The stress of the ordeal wreaked havoc on his personal life, and caused several health issues. Worst of all, now in his mid fifties, he was facing an all too familiar scenario yet again. He was starting over.
Kelly’s no quit attitude led him to adopt a new philosophy based on the powers of faith, love. dedication, and discipline. His testimony of endurance led him to write the book “The Six Steps to the Fountain of Youth” which became a best seller on The Home Shopping Network. It was this experience that led him to find his soul mate Barbara Marville. At the time, Barbara, a single mother of two sons was a Host of The Home Shopping Network. The love between them served as strong testimony that it is never too late to find love. Kelly continued to successfully compete in the Martial Arts, and at the age of 69, he became the oldest person to ever compete and win a world karate championship in full contact point fighting competition (Battle of Atlanta) Most people would be satisfied with that, but not Kelly.
In spite of his record breaking win at 69 years of age and his book “The Six Steps to The Fountain of Youth” Kelly felt that he still wasn’t getting his message across to the general public. This has forced him to re-invent himself yet again. His strategy includes writing an autobiography titled “The Legend of Tango Man”, to be created in a book and movie. What better way to get his message out, than in the “big picture industry.” In addition Kelly will take the message to the public via lectures and seminars
Perhaps his greatest feat will include coming out of retirement at age 73, to train for yet another martial arts world championship. Kelly’s main goal in doing this is to prove that anyone, no matter what age, or life challenges, can learn to master their own life, and discover there is a “champion” inside all of us, whether it be an athlete going for the Gold, a single Mom, an Entrepreneur. The list goes on.
By no means will this be the final chapter for this inspirational warrior. Could it be that perhaps now, Kelly has finally raised the awareness of the power of human synergy? Persistence, and a never, ever give up attitude will always prevail?
Note: On May 14th 2011 at 73 years of age Kelly came out of retirement and placed 4th in the Gator National Karate Championships in Daytona Beach Florida, once again making him the oldest man ever to accomplish this in a sanctioned national event. It also placed him number two in the world in points for the year with NASKA (North American Sports Karate Association) Kelly then went on to place 3rd in the US Open World Championships in Orlando and 2nd in the Pan American International championships in Miami Florida, locking in his number two rating for the year in points.
Shortly after his last tournament in 2011 Kelly started losing his balance, his memory started to fade, his performance in Tai Chi was suffering and he had a hard time focusing on what people were saying. He kept it to himself as long as he could but too many people close to Kelly noticed his downhill slide. Even HE noticed his dance swagger was jeopardized, after bartering dance lessons in exchange for his expertise in so many areas, with Arthur Murray, after promising Barbara she would get her dance lessons, that she had been yearning for. After the loss of 2 six figure incomes, and one financial struggle after another dance lessons were not on the table to pay for.
Kelly tried to convince himself that it was just a temporary challenge, but as time went by he kept getting worse. He lost his confidence in giving seminars and workshops, but reluctantly worked through, not knowing how his delivery would be, and NEVER GAVE UP!
He had all the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. What now?
How ironic, several years ago Kelly receive a grant from USF to do a one year pilot study with a group of 30 Parkinson’s patients and their care givers. It was so successful that Kelly receive 8 more grants over the next few years.
A little over a year ago in 2014 Kelly was officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His first reaction was “God why me?” but being the warrior that he is his next reaction was “God why not me?” I will beat this and when I do, maybe THEN people will hear my message! Once it was official Kelly declared war on the disease.
Everyone said “If ANYONE can beat this it is Dennis Kelly!”
In January of 2015 through his belief in God, support and understanding from family, friends, and his own Physician, a lot of help with Professionals in naturopathic supplements, meditation and some very special kinds of Chi Kung, Kelly, within a couple of months started to see signs of improvement in reversing the disease. His wife Barbara referred to it as “coming out of the black hole and back into the light!” Barbara knew something was going on, but Kelly still did not divulge everything, until he chipped away, healing one symptom at a time.
To date, Kelly has reversed 15 symptoms, is be back on the circuit, only in an even bigger way to get his message out to others: NEVER Give up, Keep your faith, stay strong, LOVE, and KNOW miracles do happen!!
The movie “The Legend of Tango Man” will be the most profound way to allow others to see the infinite possibilities of human synergy and faith!!
Amazing accomplishments once again, Kelly is planning on competing at the U.S. Open, July 2016!!!