Kyle Kelly, 28, isn’t one to sit still.
The Caledonia, Michigan, resident didn’t let a torn ACL slow him down 10 years ago, and he wasn’t about to let a recent knee injury hold him back.
“I tore my ACL during a ski competition in 2012,” Kelly said.
An ACL tear is a common injury in athletes. The ligament, a band of tissue that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone, can tear during sudden stops or changes in movement.
Kelly went on to recover, but in fall 2021 he suffered another injury.
“This time during a hike near Manistee in Michigan, about 8 miles in,” he said. “We had 2 more miles to go on the hike, so I kept going.”
At some point, he came to a muddy slope, where he slipped and fell.
“I was sore for the next few days, but I figured that was normal for the hike,” he said.
A few days later, his wife, Elizabeth, noticed Kelly limping during a soccer game. She brought it to his attention.
“After two weeks, I finally went to the doctor to check it out,” Kelly said. “After an X-ray, then an MRI, I finally went to physical therapy.”
The MRI showed flaking cartilage around his left knee.
“And that’s when I met Sri,” Kelly said.
Srikanth Nallan Chakravarthi, PT, MS, works at the Spectrum Health Rehabilitation Center in Kentwood.
The two quickly became friends. They had their first meeting Jan. 4, 2022.
“When he first came in, we talked about his goals,” Chakravarthi said. “He wanted to be skiing before the end of the ski season, so I set up a program to achieve that.”
“Then I told Sri that I had sent in an application last fall to beat the Guinness World Record, for how many ski resorts skied in 24 hours,” Kelly said.
That got Chakravarthi’s attention.
“And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, did I not communicate our goals well?’” Chakravarthi said. “Did I get his hopes up too high? Next winter, sure. But this winter?”
The two men had a good laugh about it.
But the therapist would soon learn just how determined his patient could be—and how that determination and positivity would quickly become contagious.
“Sri knew my goal was to go for this record before the end of February, so we had about seven weeks to get ready,” Kelly said. “The previous record was 17 slopes, and my goal was to beat it by two. I was going to do this with a work colleague, Brad Dykstra, who was going to snowboard for a world record.”
Training for the slopes
As it turned out, training his body was the easy part, Kelly said.
Getting the paperwork and verification to pursue the record proved the most complicated.
“I put together a binder of all we needed,” he said. “We had to have video footage that ran the entire 24 hours. That meant that the batteries couldn’t run out and we would have to have enough memory available on our two GoPro cameras.
“We also needed witnesses at each point on our map,” he said.
Those witnesses couldn’t be friends or relatives, or even paid resort employees.
“We would need two per resort and they could witness only in four-hour shifts,” he said. “That was the hardest part—and I almost gave up trying to arrange all that.”
Giving up, however, was not in Kelly’s blood.
He drew up a map of their route, beginning at Nub’s Nob at the tip of the Michigan mitten, working in an S-figure all the way down the state, to finish at Cannonsburg, near Grand Rapids.
“I had Kyle ski locally first,” Chakravarthi said. “Even though he would be skiing small bunny hills at each resort, that’s 23 in 24 hours and he would have to travel 700 miles to do it on little to no sleep.
“To be that low on energy means muscles are not at their peak performance,” he said. “Knees get worked hard going downhill and, if he didn’t stay hydrated, he could have leg cramps, increasing the possibility of injury.”
Chakravarthi focused training not only on Kelly’s knees, but his entire lower body, from hips down to his feet.
He would work on the left knee that had been giving him trouble, but also his right knee, which had been popping.
Everything is connected, Chakravarthi said.
“Kyle in general has tight muscles,” he said. “Some people are naturally more flexible, some tight. We had to make sure everything was working right and to build flexibility and endurance.
“Not just for skiing, but also the muscles he would use loading and unloading the car, packing his equipment, all of it.”
Kelly trained on special balancing platforms at the rehab clinic. He used poles similar to ski poles to mimic the motions he would make on the slopes.
Finally, his confidence high, he felt ready.
On Feb. 26, 2022, they hit the road—Kelly and his friend, Brad Dykstra, and Dykstra’s fiancé, Lynsey DeGraaf, who would watch over the binder and gather all the evidence needed. Dominic Garcia, his friend, became their faithful and tireless driver.
“Our first day, we hit 15 resorts with 10-minute skis each,” Kelly said. “I had about a half hour of sleep and we headed out again, skiing our first resorts before they were open to the public.
“At first, we had a cluster of problems like batteries running low,” he said. “But then it all came together.”
And then, there it was—the final point on the map.
They were even a little ahead of schedule, completing their 23rd slope at Cannonsburg.
“Sri was there,” Kelly nodded. “He was there, at the bottom of the slope, waiting for me—the man who brought me here.”
With his work complete, Kelly now has his hands full submitting all the needed materials in hopes of making the Guinness World Record official. That’ll include hours of video footage to submit.
And the next time he uses the camera, it’ll be a different celebration.
He’ll need it to take baby photos and videos.
“My wife, Elizabeth, has a due date of July 2022,” he said, smiling ear to ear. “His name will be Aspen.”