Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly enjoyed quite the pro football career in the USFL and NFL in the 1980s and ’90s. But none of that prepared him for what he and his family would have to endure post-retirement.
His son, Hunter, was born on February 14, 1997 (Jim’s 37th birthday), and at four months of age was diagnosed with Globoid Cell Leukodystrtophy (or Krabbe disease). Hunter courageously battled the disease all of his life, and touched all those around him. Hunter passed away at the age of eight on August 5, 2005.
On June 3, 2013, the Kelly family publicly announced that Jim had been diagnosed with a form of cancer in his upper jaw. Following successful surgery Kelly was cancer-free less than a week later, but his cancer would return in March of 2014. After enduring months of grueling radiation and chemotherapy, the doctors announced that they could no longer find any cancer in August 2014.
Jim has had two separate bouts of cancer, and with the support of his loving family and the entire city of Buffalo, he has defeated cancer twice.
Jim’s eldest daughter, Erin Kelly, a current student at Liberty University, wrote a book with assistance from her mother, Jill, entitled Kelly Tough: Live Courageously by Faith. The book chronicles the family journey and shows us the true meaning of the phrase “Kelly Tough.”
Jim, Jill and Erin embarked on a book tour in New York City and at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut last week and made numerous television and radio appearances to promote the book.
Erin was generous enough to take 10 minutes out of her incredibly busy schedule to speak with us over the phone on Friday morning to discuss the book and her family’s journey:
All-Out Blitz: Your family has been very open in sharing the Kelly story, whether it’s through this book or the numerous television appearances you and your parents made last week. What’s the No. 1 thing you hope to accomplish by publicly sharing the Kelly family story?
EK: “Ultimately I hope that it will encourage and inspire people to live courageously, and fearlessly, by faith in the midst of their own circumstances, whatever that may be. Everyone has their own story, so I hope that they will look to the strength of God in the midst of their weakness and that they will find hope in that.”
AOB: In terms of the writing process, how tough was it for you and your mother when you sat down and began the process of writing and putting together the book? Did it bring back a lot of those tough memories?
EK: “It was definitely harder than I would have expected. To write my heart down on paper and to re-live the moments all over again. That was very difficult but at the same time it was so rewarding, because through the writing process God reminded me of all that he has done.”
AOB: In the book you also spoke a lot about your brother, Hunter. Can you discuss a little bit about your family’s foundation, Hunter’s Hope?
EK: “Yes. Hunter’s Hope was started because of everything that we went through with Hunter, and there was really no one who knew a lot about Krabbe Disease. So Hunter’s Hope is a way for us to advocate for the children who can’t speak for themselves, who can’t walk or talk or do anything on their own. Through Hunter’s Hope we’re advocating for Universal Newborn Screening so that these kids can be tested at a young age so that the disease can be detected early enough.”
AOB: Over the last few years, have you seen a lot of progress, or changes, being made thanks to the Hunter’s Hope foundation?
EK: “Yes, with our foundation every day we’re learning more, and more and more people are starting to learn about the disease. We want people to know that there are ways to treat diseases and that children don’t have to suffer. Next weekend we have the Kelly Tough 12k (in Buffalo) to raise money for Hunter’s Hope. So every day we’re taking strides in making sure that every child has a chance at living a full life.”
AOB: Can you describe what the “Kelly Tough” term meant to you and your family prior to your father’s initial diagnosis, and what it means now? Has it changed at all, to you, over the last few years?
EK: “Absolutely. I think my understanding of it has changed. Growing up I definitely heard my dad say it a lot but I never really understand what that meant until I saw him actually go through cancer. But I would say Hunter was the toughest little boy I’ve ever met, just because of the strength of God displayed through him. I was reminded of what “Kelly Tough” meant while Hunter was here, but now I think it’s more than just the Kelly family. It’s not about the Kelly family at all, but just about finding strength in the midst of your weakness.”
AOB: This week you and your parents have been making a lot of television and radio appearances in New York City and at ESPN (Bristol, Connecticut). What would you say this week has been like for you, especially getting to spend so much time with your father while promoting this book?
EK: “The process of going out on this book tour has been absolutely incredible, and very humbling. Knowing that last year my father was hospitalized at this time, and now we’re going on a book tour and talking about everything that has happened and the hope we had in the midst of it. It’s been an exciting time, and I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”
AOB: What kind of impact has the support of the entire city of Buffalo had on your father and his treatment and recovery?
EK: “The Bills community and the city of Buffalo has meant the world to our family, and they really are family to us. How they’ve supported us and rallied behind us during everything my dad’s been through, we are extremely grateful.”
AOB: Again, you’ve had a lot of different people reach out to you and your family, have you had any other cancer patients reaching out to share their story with you?
EK: “Yes, many cancer patients have reached out to us to share their story but also to say how much of an encouragement our story has been to them. I hope that those people know how much of an encouragement their stories are to us, too. They’re praying for us, and we’re praying for them. It’s more than just cancer patients. People who are going through other struggles, too. It’s just been incredible to see the amount of people who have reached out to our family.”
AOB: I believe in a prior interview you had stated that the goal of the book wasn’t just to share your family’s story, but to also help encourage people who are going through other struggles in their life. Is that true?
EK: “Absolutely. With our struggle we know that we’re not in it alone. Our hope is that other people are encouraged too.”
For anyone who is interested in learning more about the advocation the Kelly family has been doing through Hunter’s Hope, we have included the link to the website below.
Below we have also included links to Erin’s website and a few other links you can check out if you’d like to learn more about either Jim or Hunter’s story, or purchase the book Kelly Tough: Live Courageously by Faith.
You can also follow Jim, Jill and Erin on their personal Twitter accounts: @JimKellyInc, @HJKforever and @erinkelly12.
Photos: Erin Kelly’s Instagram Account