Undaunted

Undaunted
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Lifelong athlete Kelly Brush learned how to “do things just a little bit differently” after a spinal cord injury in 2006. Photo: Kelly Brush Foundation
Paralysis prompts a nonprofit’s creation
inspire
After a spinal cord injury, some of us might see our options as more restricted—but not Kelly Brush. Even though she experienced an SCI while ski racing more than 10 years ago, she doesn’t see any limitations in the way she lives now. “I don’t think that my life today is any different than it would have been had I not had my accident,” she said.

Through the Kelly Brush Foundation, she and Executive Director Zeke Davisson work to help others remove obstacles, too, through one of the nonprofit foundation’s missions: to provide grants that help individuals purchase adaptive sports equipment. To date, more than 450 grants have been awarded for equipment like handcycles, monoskis and sport wheelchairs—a fact that really pleases Brush.

“In the beginning, we had a few applicants here and there,” she said. “It was so sparse, but we have been able to tap into so many networks. People are learning about us more and more, and we are getting so many deserving applicants.”
Davisson—Brush’s husband—pointed out that the equipment grants program has grown tremendously since 2014, when the Burlington, Vermont-based organization awarded 38 grants. The 2016 application cycles resulted in 190 grants to adaptive athletes. “It’s wild how fast that’s grown,” he said. “Our former grant recipients are out there in 46 states.”

While recipients for all the grants, including safety equipment for ski racing clubs, are largely based in New England, Davisson said the foundation hears from many applicants in California and Colorado. The latter state is where Brush completed a two-and-a-half-month rehabilitation after injuring her spinal cord in 2006. While competitively skiing for her college team, the lifelong athlete caught an edge and flew into a lift tower stanchion, resulting in multiple injuries.

“When I got injured, safety was not a topic that people thought about or talked about,” Brush said. “I think it was a big shock to the ski racing community when I had my accident. It’s a really small community, so everybody heard about what happened. Now, it’s really different. It’s a shift in the culture of ski racing that people think about and talk about safety, and I think we played a large role in that.”
With assistance from a board of directors that includes Bill Shearer of Audi South Burlington, the foundation (www.kellybrushfoundation.org) provides grants to ski programs so they can purchase safety netting, and it annually reminds programs around the country to talk about and budget for safety equipment. The funds for these grants, as well as the adaptive equipment grants, come from donors and the foundation’s annual fundraiser—the Kelly Brush Ride—in Middlebury, Vermont. The 12th annual ride is scheduled for early September this year.

Brush rides a handcycle and takes special pleasure in providing adaptive equipment grants to individuals seeking to enlarge their lives. For instance, Brush’s roommate in the Denver rehabilitation hospital was not an athlete before her accident but, many years later, applied to the foundation for a grant to purchase a handcycle.

“She’d had two boys since having her accident, and what she wanted was to get outside and go biking with them,” Brush said. “It’s been incredible for her. She goes biking with her boys every day. It’s been a life-changer for her. We love those stories.” 
Brush sounds excited when she talks about her current vehicle: a 2013 Audi allroad with hand-control modifications. The wagon’s inherent features—such as the low-to-the ground height and the wide doors that accommodate a wheelchair—made it appealing.
Brush and Davisson also like seeing recent applications for individuals—particularly children—with spina bifida. “Kids want team sports,” Davisson said. “Once one person on a team receives a grant, we see a ton of applications from other kids on the same team. The spina bifida community got excited that we opened up the eligibility.”

Brush sounds excited when she talks about her current vehicle: a 2013 Audi allroad with hand-control modifications. The wagon’s inherent features—such as the low-to-the ground height and the wide doors that accommodate a wheelchair—made it appealing. “I’m super active,” she said. “I’m out taking my car everywhere. I’m taking it up to the mountains. It fit for what I was going to be using my car for. There’s nothing that I feel like I can’t do because of my injury, and that’s something that people don’t recognize and don’t realize when they’re first injured.”
One Last
Word,
Ms. 
Brush
Photo: Kelly Brush Foundation
Hero?
Mom
Words to live by?
Don’t let what happens to you change how you want to live your life.
Human mobility?
universal
Ski racing safety?
essential
U.S. Adaptive Ski Team?
impressive
Limitations?
none