Kelsey Tainsh has a motto, one she earned the hardest way but shares easily.

“See differently. Try differently. Live differently.”

Kelsey Tainsh

When she takes the stage to deliver a motivational speech, like she recently did at Coke's Atlanta headquarters, the 24-year-old addresses the “differently” thing right away. Her right arm is slightly bent, and she walks with a bit of a limp. It’s all the enduring result of a stroke she had at age 15, after the return of a brain tumor that first struck her at age 5.

What makes Kelsey different is her story, part of what makes her so inspiring that she returned to Coca-Cola recently to address more than 150 employees for a special Leadership Lab presentation.

It was a homecoming of sorts. Kelsey is a Coca-Cola Scholar and Coke intern. She’s now a full-time professional motivational speaker whose message of inclusion aligns with The Coca-Cola Company's value of diversity and inclusion.

“She has faced more challenges in her young life than most of us will face in our lifetimes,” says Mark Davis, president of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation. “She has not only overcome, she has triumphed. Kelsey is the embodiment of optimism, enthusiasm and can-do spirit, the very attributes we all cherish and value at Coca-Cola.”

Cancer at an Early Age

Kelsey was the smallest of triplet girls, healthy and energetic throughout early childhood. But when she was 5, her parents began noticing trouble. She bumped into walls, needed to be held constantly, and couldn’t see things right in front of her.

An MRI revealed a large brain tumor. After surgery and radiation treatment, Kelsey was healthy for years, exceeding in acting and sports. She earned roles on shows like Desperate Housewives and, by age 15, was a champion rower and also third in the world for girls’ wakeboarding.

Then the cancer came back. During a 10-hour operation, the teenager suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on her right side.

Doctors told her she’d never leave her wheelchair. But now, after years of physical therapy and graduating with high honors from the University of Florida, Kelsey walks on her own, lives on her own and has dedicated herself to her speaking career.

Her July 17 speech at Coke included hard-won wisdom from the young woman who even now knows her cancer could come back again someday. She shared a number of pithy and inspiring rules to live by with the crowd of employees, including:
  • “Don’t live in fear,” she says. “I’ve learned that ‘fear’ just means False Evidence Appearing Real. F-E-A-R.”
  • “When we hear ‘No,’ it often means we have asked the wrong question or the wrong person.”
  • “Look past your losses to see your possibilities.”

'Coca-Cola Believed in Me'

Kelsey Tainsh at Coke
Tainsh meets with Coke employees after her speech. 

Kelsey was pleased to recall her long relationship with Coca-Cola.

“The Coca-Cola Company believed in me when many others were not sure of my future and did not think I would succeed,” she says, fondly recalling her scholarship and internship. “This company’s ability to focus on ability is tremendous. It’s a company that focuses on growth and empowerment.”

And throughout her speech, she drove home her message of diversity, well-being and self-leadership – key themes within the Coca-Cola culture.

“We’re all different,” Kelsey says. “We’re all different and there’s no such thing as normal.”

To learn more about Kelsey visit