Kelly has always identified herself an athlete. Growing up with older sister Lindsay in Charlotte, Vermont, Kelly started alpine ski racing, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, softball and swimming. For high school, Kelly went to the Green Mountain Valley School, where the focus became alpine ski racing. There, Kelly also captained the soccer and lacrosse teams. Other passions included golf, ice skating on the pond behind her home, water skiing on Lake Champlain and surfing. As an elite athlete, however, it was all about ski racing.
As early as the age of 7, Kelly was called a ‘tiger’ for her hard charging, confident ski racing style. As she grew older, Kelly worked her way up in the national rankings, particularly in the fast speed events of Downhill and Suger G, qualifying to race in the US National Championships her junior and senior years of high school. With the success came plenty of attention from collegiate ski programs.
Skiing for the Middlebury College NCAA Alpine Ski Team was Kelly’s dream. She wanted to follow in the footsteps of her parents (her mother skied in the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics; her father competed and coached at Middlebury) and her sister Lindsay, two years older than her and already on the Middlebury Ski Team. She was accepted to Middlebury College as a member of the class of 2008.
Kelly’s commitment paid off: she immediately contributed to the success of the Middlebury Ski Team her Freshman year. Her Sophomore year, Kelly really began to put the pieces together, earning an NCAA career-best 8th in the Dartmouth College Carnival Giant Slalom. In the first race of the following weekend at the Williams College Carnival, she earned another impressive finish. Kelly had become a dependable member of the team, which would be hosting the Middlebury College Carnival the following weekend, the Eastern Championships and grand finale of the carnival circuit. Her grandparents were coming from Michigan and Kelly hoped to represent Middlebury in front of them and the hundreds of students who line the Middlebury Snow Bowl course. Unfortunately, that dream would have to wait.
Injury and Rehabilitation
Kelly’s dream was cut short on February 18, 2006 on the second day of the Williams College Carnival. Starting number 12, Kelly came over a knoll and caught an edge on an icy patch. She fought to stay in the course but her ski edge grabbed and she was catapulted off the trail, striking a lift tower stanchion. She severely damaged her spinal cord injury at the T 7-8 level, fractured 4 ribs, fractured a vertebra in her neck, and a collapsed a lung. Kelly underwent 10 hours of immediate surgery to re-align and stabilize her spine at the Berkshire Medical Center.
After her first 2 weeks in the hospital, Kelly was transported to Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver, Colorado, where she spent the next two and a half months undergoing rigorous rehabilitation for what would become her new life in a wheelchair. She left Craig ready to navigate life’s new challenges with the same tenacious spirit that had been the root of her prior athletic successes.
Kelly returned to Middlebury College in the Fall of 2006 after more than 3 months spent in hospitals and another 3 spent growing accustomed to familiar places such as home but from the unfamiliar perspective of a wheelchair. At Middlebury, she remained an active member of the Ski Team, learning to ski in a monoski on the same slopes where she had raced and trained alongside her teammates. Two years after her injury, then a Senior, Kelly foreran the Middlebury Carnival in her monoski, completing the dream of her Sophomore year that she came within days of realizing in 2006.
Kelly graduated on-time from Middlebury in the Spring of 2008–despite missing a semester due to her injury–to a standing ovation that paused the commencement ceremony. In January of 2009, Kelly was honored with the NCAA Inspiration Award, a select award bestowed by the NCAA only when deserving. Kelly worked for ESPN for a year upon graduation prior to moving to Boston for nursing school.
Kelly is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and heavily involved in the direction and growth of the Kelly Brush Foundation. She continues to ski, bike, golf, play tennis and, when able, surf. The inspiration in her story is in the ease and grace with which she continues to live a normal, fulfilling life. It is that attitude and mindset that the Kelly Brush Foundation tries to inspire in and share with others living with paralysis.