After graduating from Laurel High in 1993, Jennifer (Millar) Roberts attended Prince George's Community College in Largo for about a year before she realized it was time for a change.
"I was 18 that first year out of high school," she said. "I remember telling my dad, 'This is (going) too slow. I am going to massage school.' My dad said, 'Are you sure?'"
Roberts was convinced of what she wanted to do and 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.
Roberts, who played youth soccer and was a swimmer growing up in West Laurel, sailed through PMTI and, nearly 20 years later, runs her own massage therapy company, Pro Sports Massage Unlimited.
Millar, who also attended PMTI, said he did not try and talk his daughter out of her career path.
"It was all on her own," said Millar, a High Point High graduate who lived in Laurel from 1976 to 2005. "She didn't like the (traditional) school setting. She is more of a hands on-type person."
Roberts is an independent contractor for D.C. United, a Major League Soccer team that she has worked with since 1996. She also works with several teams at the University of Maryland, including the women's basketball team that is coached by North Laurel resident Brenda Frese. Roberts also has private clients, including entertainers, and has worked with players from the Baltimore Ravens.
"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 with D.C. United."
Roberts said she worked several years as a volunteer with D.C. United since the team did not have a budget for a massage therapist.
Now married with two children, the Carroll County 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.
Roberts said the average massage for a D.C. United or Terps player is 20 to 30 minutes, and that 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.
"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. Normally, Roberts may spend more than four hours following a practice giving massages to most of the players on the Maryland team. She has also worked with gymnasts at the College Park school, as well.
Roberts and her father teamed up again in 2004-05 with the swim team at Maryland, while Millar was away from the Capitals during the NHL lockout. The Maryland coach at the time was Jim Wenhold, of Laurel.
Millar said his daughter works more with "heart and touch" than those who learn in the typical classroom setting.
"I love what I do," she said.