HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – October marks a significant month for Robert Kelly as it is the start of hockey season and the month in which his career is celebrated through Physical Therapy Month.
Kelly just began his 31st year as the Hershey Bears team physical therapist. Kelly started his career as an athletic trainer, which he still holds the certification for, in Cincinnati, Ohio at a sports medicine facility. After he made the jump to physical therapy, he made his way to “The Sweetest Place on Earth.”
“I started at Hershey Medical Center in 1990 and I started with the Bears in the fall of ’93,” said Kelly. “We developed a relationship with the Bears [and] provided both physician coverage and physical therapy.”
During his tenure with the Bears, Kelly has accumulated a collection of five Calder Cup rings.
“We just got our fifth,” Kelly said. “They’re all different, but they’re all amazing. It’s a long grind for those guys.”
Kelly keeps his collection in a safe most of the time, but during the interview, he noted his wife had placed them in their dining room to show one of her friends.
Kelly has earned those rings by helping ensure the Bears are in top form when they hit the ice. He does hands-on rehab with players who get injured in practice or in a game, including long-term rehabilitation. Kelly works with a team of doctors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches to help hurt players recover safely and as quickly as possible.
“It’s the same with them as my clinical patients,” Kelly said. “Anytime they’re able to get back to what they want to do and achieve success it feels good, but I’ve really enjoyed this small part that I do have with these guys.”
Kelly works mostly home games, only traveling occasionally during playoffs. He does injury clinics along with his rehabilitation duties and he has worked the bench a few times, going back to his athletic training roots.
Kelly noted that while the Bears winning Calder Cups is a great experience, his favorite part of his job has been the people he’s worked with, from the players to the other team medical staff. Kelly has especially enjoyed watching former players become coaches, including current Head Coach Todd Nelson who was a former Bears defender.
“Every once in a while, I’ll get a random text from a player that was here 15 years ago,” Kelly said. “That’s the special stuff.”
Kelly has dedicated many hours to working with the Bears and helping players, sometimes having to miss family events for work, but he says it’s been a great 30 years.