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  • Overcoming Adversity
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Motivation | Sports | Inspiration | Leadership | Parenting | Teamwork


Born on Valentine's Day 1960, Jim Kelly was raised in East Brady, Pennsylvania. His father was raised by nuns in an orphanage outside of Pittsburgh, while his mother's every move conveyed an aura of sainthood. Although she longed to give birth to a daughter, she was blessed with 6 boys.

Growing up with 5 brothers, Jim learned to be tough. It also gave him a desire to strive and excel. He credits much of his success to his brothers.

Jim wanted to play for Penn State under Joe Paterno, but was offered a full ride to play linebacker. He declined and attended the University of Miami as a quarterback. Senior year, Jim was a Heisman trophy candidate against Herschel Walker, Dan Marino and John Elway. Fourth game of the season against Virginia Tech, he was blindsided and tore his ACL. He was told he may never get his range of motion back. With hard work, dedication and support from his family, he proved the doctors wrong.

During the 1983 NFL Draft the Buffalo Bills was one of 3 teams Jim did not want to play for. The Bills had the 12th pick in the 1st round and Jim let out a big sigh of relief when his name was not called. However the Bills also had the 14th pick in the 1st round. This time his name was called and Jim Kelly became a Buffalo Bill.

Despite being drafted, he opted to play for the USFL as a Houston Gambler and was named USFL Player of the Year in 1984. When the USFL suspended operations, he went back to his contract with the Bills and began playing in 1986.

Jim Kelly was a Buffalo Bill for his entire NFL career: 1986-1996. He led his team to six AFC East Championships and four consecutive Super Bowl appearances. Even though the Bills did not come home with a Super Bowl Championship ring, they showed incredible resiliency by making it back four times in a row. No other team has been able to match this accomplishment. In 1997, he announced his decision to retire from the NFL.

On his very own birthday, Valentine's Day February 14th 1997 his first and only son, Hunter was born. Hunter was diagnosed with a fatal disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy. He was given a life expectancy of 2 years. Jim and Jill established the Hunter's Hope Foundation to provide research with respect to Krabbe Disease and other Leukodystrophies as well as becoming advocates for Universal Newborn Screening.

Jim Kelly was inducted as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2002 and at that time he was the 8th quarterback in NFL history to be selected on the first ballot. His prayers were answered and his son Hunter was able to attend the induction ceremony. His speech is said to be one of the best ever heard. Hunter celebrated 8 years of life until he was laid to rest August 5th, 2005.

Co-author of Without a Word: How a Boy's Unspoken Love Changed Everything is a riveting memoir that reveals the Kelly family's struggle from when Hunter was diagnosed with Krabbe Leukodystrophy. It was on The New York Times Best Seller list.

On June 3, 2013, it was announced Kelly was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer in his upper jaw. He underwent surgery at a Buffalo hospital in June and reported to news outlets shortly after the surgery was successful. In March 2014 after a follow-up test, Kelly's cancer returned and he did undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Doctors confirmed in September of 2014 after biopsies had been taken that there is currently no sign of cancer. Jim will continue to be closely monitored.

Jim Kelly and his wife reside in Orchard Park, New York and have 3 children.

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