Shelley Meyer has earned some downtime. After concluding a rewarding yet rough time in Gainesville, Florida, and landing back in her home state, Shelley could have filled her calendar with long lunches and spa visits. Considering how she had persuaded husband Urban to sign the infamous “ pink contract,” in which he promised to slow down, take care of himself and make more time for the family, no one would have judged her for taking a little time off herself.
With Urban now at the helm of Buckeye football, one of the most coveted gigs in college athletics, she could have saved her energy for cheering on the Scarlet and Gray at the Shoe on Saturdays. She could have relaxed. But that’ s the thing about Shelley Meyer: sitting pretty isn’t really her style.
In addition to playing the role of loudest Buckeye cheerleader, her list of designations includes rock star mom—to Nicki, Gigi and Nate—psychiatric nurse, teacher, fitness instructor and philanthropist. Soon she’ ll also be a grandmother, and she recently added “ designer” to her list of titles after launching an athleisure line in mid-2016.
At 51, Ohio’ s first lady of football has more on her plate than ever.
Finding her way
Shelley grew up on a farm in Lattaville, Ohio, a strip of Ross County land so tiny that many residents use the nearby small town of Chillicothe to describe where they live.
“When I go back now, which isn’t too often, I realize just how simple life was,” Shelley says. “Most of the time, we had only one car. We had to go to the laundromat in Frankfort to do our laundry; I remember running around in there for hours on Saturdays, playing with the little carts.”
Her father Greg worked on the railroad and on the family farm. Her stepmother Marlene, who raised her after Shelley’ s mother died in a car accident, was a homemaker.
Shelley’ s self-described “farm girl” upbringing was spent baling hay, working in the garden and running around in the fields. She attended church twice a week, and going out to dinner was a treat she enjoyed but few times a year.
“It was just so different,” she says, thinking of her own kids’ experiences. “It was so quiet.” A natural athlete, Shelley played three sports at Adena High School in nearby Frankfort. In 1983, she was named queen of the Ross County Fair. Later that year, at 18, she left home for the first time.
Though she was accepted by Ohio State, Shelley ultimately selected the University of Cincinnati to follow in the footsteps of her maternal grandmother, who worked as a nurse in a veterans’ hospital for nearly 30 years. At the University of Cincinnati they allowed students to begin the nursing program immediately. Waiting until sophomore year wouldn’ t fly for Shelley.
Working with a Vietnam War veteran struggling with depression motivated her to focus on psychiatric nursing. “I hated the task-oriented part of nursing,” she says. “This was all about listening to him and helping him figure out some ways to cope. I liked the relationship element; something just clicked.”
Meanwhile, she met “UB,” a cute defensive back with a great sense of humor. “ [My attraction] had nothing to do with his being an athlete,” she says. “Since I was from this small town, he was just very intriguing to me.”
In 1989, the two married.
“We had no idea what lay ahead,” she says. “When he talked back then about being a coach, I didn’t really know about the lifestyle. This was just what he did; he coached football. I had no idea we’ d end up like this. We just lived our lives.”
Using her voice
She may be a proud Buckeye now, but Shelley definitely brings a little Florida with her everywhere she goes. From her deep tan and honeyblonde hair to her warm and breezy disposition, she’ s essentially bottled sunshine.
It’ s fitting, considering how little time she spends in the shadows.
“I’ve always admired my mom’ s individuality,” says daughter Nicki, who lives in town with her husband Corey Dennis, an assistant coach on Urban’ s team. “Her personality is so bright, warm and fun that it makes this world a better place. She’ s never been one to stay in the lines; she’ s very strong and outspoken—always in a positive way, of course!”
Despite her role as a coach’ s wife, Shelley’ s not one for the sidelines. She’ s even been known to call in to sports radio shows to give her opinion.
She once told Nike co-founder, Phil Knight, that she wasn’t a fan of the brand’s women’s gear. As her husband’s career skyrocketed, Shelley made every effort to nurture her own passions.
“I’ve always had my own interests, and I never wanted to give anything up,” she says. “Some head coaches’ wives—I think a lot of them—are on a lot of boards,” she says. “ But that stuff is boring to me. I don’ t want to do only that. I want to do so many other things, too.”
Shelley received her Masters in Psychiatric Nursing from the University of Colorado, while Urban coached at Colorado State University. She works during the fall semester as a clinical instructor for senior nursing students in adolescent psychology at Harding Hospital. She also teaches spinning classes at Premier at Sawmill Athletic Club twice a week.
“She is like Superwoman to me,”Nicki says. “I look up to her in every aspect of life: as a mother, as a wife, as a friend. Being a coach’s wife requires a certain level of independence, selflessness and strength, which she just masters.”
In addition to her day-to-day duties, Shelley has often had to play the role of travel agent, too. “I grew up in the same spot until I was 18,” she says. “ My kids have not had that lifestyle. I won’t
say moving frequently was easy, but it’s something a coach’s wife has to deal with. Nate, Gigi and Nicki all adapted to every place we moved.”
“She’s held our family together in the midst of chaos, emotion and stress,” Nicki adds. “Someone is always dealing with something, and each of us is able to put our stress and worries on her shoulders. It’s hard to be fully responsible for kids and their crazy schedules, and it’s definitely hard to understand when your husband must answer recruiting calls at dinner. She doesn’t take it personally or get upset over it; she simply supports.”
Now, with Nicki newly married and Gigi living in Florida, Shelley relishes having one kid left at home.
“When the girls were both gone and off to college, I realized, ‘ Gosh, I’ m so glad we had Nate!’ I wanted a baby again, but I didn’t think about the back end—having a kid at home after my other two were gone,” she says. “It’s awesome.”
Nate attends Bishop Watterson High Schoolwhere he plays football, and Shelley never misses a game.
Though she and Urban are inching toward empty-nester status, she also serves as the football team’s “mom away from home.”
“Ever since his first coaching job, Urban and I have operated as a team; I’m as much a part of the program as I can be,” she says. “I’m like the mommy at school, because the mommies at home can’t be there all the time. It’s nice to be able to take these young men under my wing. We have kids over because they’re homesick or having girlfriend problems or whatever. I think sometimes it’s important for our players to see their coach acting like a dad and a husband, and not just a coach on the field.”
Her faith is also a priority for Shelley. “It’ s very, very important,” she says. “ We have God in our lives. I don’t know how we would have done any of this otherwise.”
Making her mark
When Bend Active approached Shelley about collaborating on a fitness collection, it was a no-brainer. After all, this is the woman who needs at least 20 minutes to describe her fitness regimen.
The spinning instructor—who began teaching group aerobics classes while still in college and calls herself an “endorphin junkie”—lives for a good sweat session, including the charity spin rides with which she is affiliated.
“I really like to cross train; I like to do Body-Pump and I love to take Boot Camp classes. Sometimes, I’ll go to CycleBar to try another instructor’s class, and at Peak Fitness, we call each other Peak Babes,” she says. “You know, I’ m 51! You start to lose things, so I’m always trying to challenge myself.”
“I take her class once a week,” Nicki says. “She kicks my butt.”
For Bend Active, she created a “ Will Spin for Endorphins” shirt and a few pairs of leggings. A special selection of the line is available at five Kroger Marketplace locations.
“I’ve already picked up several items myself,” she laughs, “and all the people in my spin classes are wearing it.”
In addition to cheering, teaching and working out, Shelley has a passion for outreach, both to student athletes and her community. She is involved with Athletes in Action, an international Christian sports organization that offers mentorship, Bible studies, reflection services, and outreach opportunities for athletes. She also champions the Ronald McDonald House and the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research, which was established to help recruit the world’s best experts to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC). – The James
“Cancer is in our face all the time,” Shelley says. “I think it’s that way for pretty much everyone these days. We love supporting causes, but this one is the big one. It’s taking too many people’s lives.”
“We are so grateful for the leadership and support that Urban and Shelley Meyer have provided in recognizing a need and creating this fund,” said Michael Caligiuri, Director of OSUCCC. Dr. Timothy Pawlik was recently appointed as the Urban Meyer III and Shelley Meyer Chair for Cancer Research. This new $2 million endowed chair was made possible through the Meyers’ fund. “They tirelessly fundraised to make this new endowed chair a reality,” Caligiuri adds.
The annual Buckeye Cruise for Cancer, hosted by the Meyers, raised nearly $1.5 million this year.
Shelley is all in for her team, whether that’s the Buckeyes, her own family, or the Columbus community. She’s a busy mom, wife, and teacher, but it’s her love of people that really drives her, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
“She has a very soft heart; she’s always giving in any way she can,” Nicki says. “ She’s involved in so many things, I don’t know how she does it all.”