Buffalo Bills fans who have watched some of the team’s preseason games or have visited this summer’s training camp at St. John Fisher College may have seen a familiar Penn Yan face on the sideline.
Kelly Bray, 20, daughter of Jeff and Kristen Bray of Penn Yan, is in the first year of a two year athletic training internship with the Buffalo Bills. The 2016 Penn Yan Academy graduate is entering her junior year at Canisius College, where she’s just beginning her educational path toward her dream career.
While the focus for that career isn’t completely clear yet, she’s discovered how much she really enjoys working with the elite athletes of professional sports. “I’m surrounded by the best,” she says, adding, “I love the high-level athletic environment.”
She had her sights set on this opportunity from the beginning of her college career, and soon after she inquired about the opportunity learned that a female student had never been an athletic training intern for the Bills.
Until May, when she was hired by the Bills athletic trainer. The application and hiring process included getting recommendations from her instructors and working with her advisor before an interview with the Bills personnel.
She is a junior undergraduate intern this year and in 2019 she’ll be a senior undergraduate intern.
Kelly works with the offensive linemen, who she praises for their professional demeanor. “I was afraid the players wouldn’t take me seriously,” she admits, but she’s found them to be willing to work with her. “Everybody has been really great. They are all married and fathers. They are adults,” she adds.
The most common issues the 15 linemen need help with involve their hands, wrists, and elbows. “There is an incredible amount of constant force these men put their bodies through, and it is part of my job to keep them put together,” she explains.
Working behind the scenes of a professional sport is not all fun and games. It means long, exhausting days working in weather from the stifling heat of training camp to the snow, ice, and cold that is characteristic of a Buffalo football season. But Bray is up to the challenges, reminding herself she has a job that thousands of others would jump in front of Dion Dawkins to land.
Football is the professional sport that interests her the most at the moment, but she’s also looking forward to her winter rotation working with collegiate hockey.
Calling the job an opportunity of a lifetime, Kelly says she’s following her father’s advice. Her father, who is the head athletic trainer and associate athletic director at Keuka College, was an intern with the Philadelphia Eagles during his collegiate education. And as a professional who has worked with a number of professional athletes in a variety of sports over the years, he advised Kelly, “Be thankful for this every day. When you think you’re working hard, work harder... Be the best you can be.”
Jeff Bray says he never dreamt his child — much less his daughter — would follow in his footsteps on the NFL sidelines, where just five full time certified athletic trainers are female.
She’s also following in her mother’s footsteps at Kristin’s alma mater.
Kelly’s voice reveals her enthusiasm for the job when she talks about the demands that kept her busy six days a week this summer. Although the interns work all practices, training camp and home games, they do not travel to away games. However, she and 11 other interns drove to Cleveland on their day off to be on the sideline for the Aug. 17 game against the Browns.
During the little down time she has, Kelly says she works on learning more skills that will help her grow in the job.
When she graduates from Canisius with her Bachelor of Science degree, she will take a Board of Certification exam to earn the title “ATC,” or Certified Athletic Trainer. She plans to continue on in graduate school and is keeping her specialization options open, but for now, she has her eyes set on a path that includes working with professional athletes. “It’s exciting when a patient has a high level to get back to,” she says.