After graduating from high school in 1993, Westminster resident Jennifer (Millar) Roberts attended community college for about a year before she realized it was time for a change.
"I was 18 that first year out of high school," said Roberts, who at the time lived in Prince George's County and graduated from Laurel High School. "I remember telling my dad, 'This is (going) too slow. I am going to massage school.'
"My dad said, 'Are you sure?' "
Her father, Curt Millar, may have known the ups and down of that particular profession. He was — and still is — the massage therapist for the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League.
But Roberts was convinced of what she wanted to do. She entered Potomac Massage Training Institute in Washington at age 19 — so young that PMTI had some reservations.
"PMTI was very structured. They did not want young females or young kids coming in and ruining the program and not passing the courses," said Roberts, who added that the unsavory reputation of massage parlors also worked against a young person getting into the legitimate side of the business at that time.
She sailed through PMTI and, nearly 20 years later, runs her own massage therapy company, Pro Sports Massage Unlimited.
And she has followed her dad's footsteps in more than one way — since 1996 she has worked withD.C. United, Washington's Major League Soccer team. Roberts also has private clients, including entertainers, and has worked with players from the Baltimore Ravens.
She also works with several teams at the University of Maryland, including the women's basketball team coached by Brenda Frese.
"Jenni is extremely professional," Frese said. "She works with our team about once a week during the season (and) aids in their recovery as we have such quick turnarounds with games in season. We are really lucky to have her."
At an early age, Roberts was around top-level athletes. She remembers when Alan May and Dino Ciccarelli, then with the Capitals, would come to the family home so her father could treat them.
"I worked with my dad during the 1998 season," the year the Caps advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, Roberts said. "I worked a few playoff games with him. It was great to have that opportunity to train under him. When I was in massage school I got to work with him. I got hands-on experience and after that worked withD.C. United."
"It was all on her own," said her father about Roberts' choice to pursue massage therapy. "She didn't like the (traditional) school setting. She is more of a hands on-type person."
Roberts said she worked several years as a volunteer withD.C. Unitedsince the team did not have a budget for a massage therapist. She's now an independent contractor with the club.
Now married with two children, the Westminster resident said it is more common to see females in the medical field with pro teams.
"It is accepted in most sports," she said. "There are female athletic trainers. It depends on what sport you are talking about and how upper management is" on the topic.
"Each player is different. Some need specific work (in certain areas of the body). Some want general work," said Roberts, who may give a massage to five or six D.C. United players after a match in which each of them played all 90 minutes.
She has traveled with the Maryland women's basketball team in the past, but said athletic budget cuts at the school meant she made no road trips with the Terps this past season. She has also worked with gymnasts at the College Park school, as well.
She and her father teamed up in 2004-05 with the swim team at Maryland, while Millar was away from the Capitals during the NHL lockout.
Millar said he found his daughter has more "heart and touch" than many who learn in the typical classroom setting.
"I love what I do," said Roberts, who noted that in order to get the best result, a massage therapist has to feel comfortable with their clients, including many who have a high-profile resume.
"These athletes are paid millions of dollars to be in top-notch shape," she said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun