County native is physical therapist to tennis greats
Gary Kitchell has worked all four Grand Slam tourneys


Tennis great Roger Federer, left, with physical therapist Gary Kitchell Photos provided

By Laurie Gordon
SPARTA — Sussex County native Gary Kitchell, a world-renowned physical therapist, has been in the swing of things on the tennis circuit for over 38 years.
For instance, at a recent charity golf event in New Jersey, Kitchell hung out with former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion John McEnroe.
“When you work with these guys, as long as I have you develop great friendships with them,” said Kitchell, who is a seasonal resident of both Sparta and Vero Beach, Florida.
Many of Kitchell's friends have been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and he has been fortunate enough to have worked with 21 players who were ranked Number One in the world.
The champions with whom Kitchell has worked reads like a list of tennis' aristocracy: McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Mats Wilander, Michael Chang, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Tracy Austin, Gabriela Sabatini, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki and Jana Novotna.
In addition, he served as the trainer for two of Roger Federer’s exhibition events at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Kitchell has treated more than 400 players on the men’s and women’s pro tours and worked at all four Grand Slam tournaments during his career.
“Sometimes, it was for a week; other times, it was for an extended period,” he said. “And there are a few I’ve worked with, on an on-and-off basis, for years. They call when they need help, and they know I am always there to take care of them.”
He added, “The majority of the time, players came to me with injuries others could not fix.”
These very friendships brought tennis to our Sussex County backyard when a handful of these players came to Sparta from 2011 to 2015. Kitchell had asked them to show their stuff and help raise money for Newton Memorial Hospital, through charity tennis events he helped facilitate. These pro/am matches were held at the Lake Mohawk Tennis Club and the Sparta Athletic Club., to the delight of locals who were treated to meeting, watching and playing with some of the greatest players in the sport.
Kitchell is a Sussex County guy through and through. He was born and raised in Stockholm. He graduated from Franklin High School. He went on to graduate from Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts where he played both football and tennis.
“I came to Sparta in the summer of 1974 and became the first assistant Tennis Pro at the Sussex County Racqet Center now known as Sparta Athletic Club,” he said. “The following year I was the first head Tennis Pro at the Lake Mohawk Tennis Club as well as the Lake Mohawk Cruiser Club.”
After working several years at the indoor and outdoor facilities, he made a career change and graduated in 1981 from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey as a sports medicine physical therapist.
Settling in Sparta and starting a family, he founded Sparta Physical Therapy in 1981 and by 1994, he had the fifth-largest physical therapy practice in the United States.
“We had 37 employees, saw 550 athletes a week and were featured in the Wall Street Journal,” Kitchell said.
Even though he moved to Florida in 1994, he always maintained a summer home in Sussex County.
“I have owned my home in Sparta for the past 11 years,” Kitchell said. “I have always remained very active in the tri-state area tennis world. During the winter months, I teach locally at the Minerals Hotel and Spa in Vernon, as well as working with professional and amateur athletes at my office in Vero Beach. During the summer months, I work at the various high schools in Sussex County providing tennis instruction for juniors and adults. This past spring season I was the boys tennis coach at Pope John High School.”
As for the top-notch players, once they learned of Kitchell's ability, word spread like wildfire. Czech native Ivan Lendl first learned of Kitchell's ability to diagnose and treat injuries in the 1989 Lipton International Tennis Championships in Key Biscayne where Kitchell was working as a volunteer physical therapist.
“[Lendl] was having back issues, and the treatments he was getting from the ATP Tour’s trainers weren’t helping,” Kitchell said. “I was a certified spine therapist, and I was listening to them as they treated him. I kept thinking,'They’re treating the wrong thing.”
Kitchell worked his magic and cured Lendl.
As fate would have it, Lendl moved to Vero Beach and Kitchell treated him for the rest of his playing career, which ended when chronic back pain forced him to retire at age 34 after the 1994 season.
”That is what makes Kitchell so good at his job,” Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam champion, told a Vero Beach publication, “The key to good treatment is good diagnosis. Gary does that very well."
Working with Lendl gave Kitchell credibility with other players on both the men’s and women’s tours. He also worked with major golf champions on the PGA Tour, including Payne Stewart and Jose Maria Olazabal.
“When you work with a champion of Ivan’s stature, people notice,” Kitchell said. “They figure, ‘If he’s good enough for Lendl, he’s good enough for me.’ I was set.”
Jim Courier, former number one player in the world who first sought Kitchell's help in 1989, offered an equally glowing reference, calling Kitchell the "best in the business." Courier the founder and driving force behind The Powershares Champions Tour, recruited Kitchell to be the tour trainer and physical therapist for 13 years.
"He loves tennis and knows the body," McEnroe said."He knows what we need, specifically for tennis. To have a guy like Gary around is very important for the guys on tour."
Kitchell is thankful for how his career has unfolded.
“You’re talking to a blue-collar boy from a zinc-mining town in New Jersey who got to see the world,” he said. “I am a man who came from humble beginnings and was given the opportunity to meet presidents and kings.”
(Some material provided courtesy of Ray McNulty, a Vero Beach journalist.)