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The Transformation Of Taylor Kinney From Childhood To Chicago Fire

Taylor Kinney's Kelly Severide is instantly recognizable to millions of devoted "Chicago Fire" fans as the heroic lieutenant in charge of Rescue Squad 3 at Chi-town's Firehouse 51. Starring on the smash hit "One Chicago" action-drama since its launch back in 2012, Kinney's career on film and television also covers a wide range of roles in both TV and motion pictures, as well as his tabloid-touted relationship with one of the music industry's most famous superstars.

All of that being said, Kinney's path to stardom on one of network TV's hottest, most enduring series originated in a somewhat unlikely location. The same can also be said of his early career choices and various detours en route to his current role on "Chicago Fire." From humble beginnings in southern Pennsylvania to high school sports stardom to pursuing a decidedly un-showbiz major during his college years, Kinney hardly seemed headed for Hollywood celebrity. But as it turns out, that's exactly where the burly actor ended up, and the story of his transformation from childhood to starring in "Chicago Fire" is a tale with plenty of surprising twists and turns along the way.

He was a volleyball hero in high school

Born in Lancaster in south-central Pennsylvania, Kinney's mother, Pamela Heisler, was a dental hygienist, and his father, Daniel Kinney, was a banker. Raised by his single-parent mother in Neffsville, Pennsylvania, Kinney's family also includes three brothers.

As a student at Lancaster Mennonite School, Kinney excelled at volleyball, as noted by the Daily Mail. In fact, one of his old friends referred to the young athlete as one of the school's best volleyball players. "I remember he took the team to district playoffs," said Eric Kinnel, who was Kinney's volleyball teammate in high school. "He had a great senior year." Kinney's impact as a young athlete was also noted by local website Lancaster Online in a brief mention of his exploits on the volleyball court at Lancaster Mennonite.

As reported by New York Daily News, Kinney was described in his high school yearbook as being "Carefree, Goofy and Committed." Miles Yoder, associate principal during Kinney's time at the school from 1997 to 2000, also remembered Kinney as personable and gregarious. "I have really good memories of him," Yoder said. "He was somebody who was very friendly. Everybody liked him ..."

He studies business and boxing in college

After graduating from high school, Kinney made the move from Lancaster to Morgantown, West Virginia, where he enrolled in business management courses at West Virginia University. As noted in an interview with USA Today, Kinney's life took an unexpected turn during his sophomore year at the WVU when he happened to enroll in an elective course with no connection at all to his more practically oriented studies in economics and business. The theater course that Kinney decided to explore would have a major impact on the young collegiate's future. In fact, asked about it in the USA Today piece, Kinney said that studying drama and theater "held my interest outside of the classroom more so than any other subject I'd ever taken."

In addition to his new interest in theater, Kinney was also attracted to an entirely new sport in college: boxing. "Yeah...when I was in college, I boxed for a while," Kinney told Assignment X during a 2013 interview, detailing how he got interested in the sport and the respect he gained for those in the ring. "My grandfather was a big boxing fan. So we would watch on TV.... And when I started boxing, I started out doing three-minute rounds and by the end of that third round, you could barely put your hands up...you realize how difficult it is and how much training they have."

He rode waves and hammered nails in Hawaii

Kinney would continue his education at West Virginia U through his junior year of studies. When he left school, however, he would also leave Pennsylvania and, eventually, say goodbye to the continental U.S. altogether. Moving to Hawaii, Kinney started a life-long fascination with the sport of surfing. To help fund his newfound obsession with riding the waves, he worked at carpentry jobs, and also found time to take up skydiving.

As it turns out, Kinney's carpentry work in Hawaii was a logical outgrowth of his time spent as a roofer when he was younger. Speaking to Assignment X, Kinney recalled, "I spent a lot of summers on roofs and framing and I like to see my work. I like to sweat, I like to use my hands." In fact, some of Kinney's roofing experience would come in handy when years later he wound up playing a first responder on "Chicago Fire." Asked on the blog Talking with Tami if he was afraid of heights, Kinney responded, "No I am not. I used to work in roofing before becoming an actor, so it didn't bother me. I always enjoy doing it."

He got his big Hollywood break -- and went Gaga

On his return to the mainland from Hawaii, Kinney's acting career got off to an auspicious start in 2006 when he landed a recurring role in the nighttime soap "Fashion House," playing the character of Luke Gianni alongside stars including Morgan Fairchild and Bo Derek (per IMDb). Additional roles accumulated quickly for the charismatic actor, as he made a guest appearance on the TV series "Bones" in 2008, starred as Glenn Morrison in 19 episodes of the medical drama "Trauma," and dropped in on "CSI: NY" to play Jason Locke in the 2011 episode "Identity Crisis."

Cast in increasingly substantial roles, the years 2010 and 2011 would see Kinney spend 10 episodes as the lupine Mason Lockwood in "The Vampire Diaries." In 2012, Kinney would find his way into the first of Dick Wolf's "One Chicago" shows when he was cast as rescue squad leader Kelly Severide, a part he would play up until the present day. Kinney would also pay visits to the other two "One Chicago" franchises, making multiple appearances in both "Chicago P.D." and "Chicago Med." 

As a sidebar, it was a few years after starting to work on "Chicago Fire" that Kinney would strike up a highly publicized relationship with international pop superstar Lady Gaga. After dating for some three years, the two would get engaged in 2015 -– only to have their high-profile relationship fall apart just one year later (via US Magazine).

So, from the volleyball courts of southern Pennsylvania to riding big waves in Hawaii and finally earning his first responder stripes in the One Chicago universe, Taylor Kinney has truly experienced a remarkable transformation from childhood to the red-hot network TV ratings of "Chicago Fire."