After the accident, Middlebury College ski coach Forest Carey told the ski team members to each try to raise $1,000. "He said we’d do a century ride for Kelly in the fall,” Davisson remembers. “There were about 25 of us who rode 100 miles.” But instead of raising $25,000, the team raised $60,000. That initial money went to Brush to help pay for a hand cycle and sit-ski. Those cost about $12,000 and the funds were more than enough. “There’s still money in that fund,” Davisson says. A year later, Brush and her family set up the Kelly Brush Foundation and the Kelly Brush Ride drew hundreds of cyclists and raised more than $100,000. In the years since, the ride has regularly drawn 600 to 700 cyclists, including about two dozen hand cyclists who ride anywhere from 25 to 100 miles on the quiet roads that roll through the farmland of Addison County. Among them: Kelly Brush and Chris Waddell, another Middlebury College ski racer who suffered a spinal cord injury while freeskiing at the Middlebury Snow Bowl in the 1980s. Waddell has since gone on to win medals in both skiing and cycling in the Paralympics and, in 2011, became the first paraplegic to climb Kilimanjaro.
What You Can Do You can support the Kelly Brush Foundation by joining the Kelly Brush Century Ride on Sept. 12 out of Middlebury, Vt. On October 22, the foundation will also be hosting Inspire Vermont, a fundraising cocktail party with Kelly Brush and grant recipients at the South End Kitchen in Burlington. www.kellybrushfoundation.org.
After the accident, Brush spent a week in the ICU and then two months at the Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver, Co. After six weeks, she tried a hand cycle. “That was the first time she felt the wind in her hair and she could feel like an athlete again,” Davisson recalls.
In the years since, Brush and her foundation have been working to restore that feeling to others. In 2012 she and Zeke were married and this past year Davisson left his job as an attorney to run the foundation. So far, the foundation has helped purchase more than 300 pieces of adaptive ski equipment. The recipients, who apply for a grant, are people like Kevin McDonald, a 41-year-old who fell from a deck while taking down decorations. This past winter, using a sit-ski, McDonald was able to ski with his son again at Killington for the first time since the accident. Another grant went to Greg Durso, a bank analyst from Long Island, who had a sledding accident. Durso used his handcyle to compete in Ironman Maryland. And then there is Amber Clark. While Brush was in the Craig rehab hospital, Clark was her roommate. “It was strange, she had the exact same injury as I did, at the exact same time and we were about the same age, but that was where the similarities ended,” Brush says. Clark, who was working at Subway at the time, had had an accident while tubing. After they left the hospital, the two stayed friends on Facebook but lost touch.
“One day Amber reached out to me on Facebook,” Brush says. “She had gained weight and was out of shape. She said the hardest part about her accident was not being able to ride with her sons.” Clark applied, and earned a grant that bought her a hand cycle. By riding it she has lost 45 pounds. "She said to me, ‘you know, I was always using my injury as an excuse. Now I see it doesn’t have to be,’” Brush says. And for Brush, it hasn’t. “I’ve never once heard Kelly say, ‘oh why me,’ or really dwell on it,” says Davisson. “My sister and Zeke have been my biggest allies,” Brush says. “They just push me and say, hey were going to find a way to do this—whether it’s surfing or skiing Tuckerman’s.” That attitude may be something Brush inherited. In 2013 her parents were snowcat skiing in Chatter Creek, B.C., when an avalanche buried her father. Charlie Brush was blue and not breathing when he was finally dug out and revived. He was back skiing the next day. “That was pretty surreal,” Kelly recalls. “It’s another reminder that life is pretty precious. And that sometimes we get second chances.”
Kelly Brush Davisson rockets through Addison County on her hand cycle. This year's Kelly Brush Century Ride is Sept. 12. Photo courtesy Kelly Brush Foundation