In Kelly’s Words – Skiing with Naomi (and flashbacks!)


Learning how to monoski is really hard. It’s a completely different feeling than skiing standing up. All the little adjustments that you make from core, to hips, to thighs, to knees, to ankles, to the bottom of your foot—just inches off the snow—ends for me at my sternum.


A couple weeks ago we hosted a “Ski with Kelly” at Sugarbush with an idea as simple as: “let’s get a bunch of supporters and grant recipients together and go skiing”! The weather wasn’t ideal (though the snow conditions were great, kudos to Sugarbush!), but we had a great group turn out. In total we had 7 monoskier with a huge range of ability, from Chris Devlin-Young, one of the greatest living monoskiers, to relative beginners like Naomi, a 2016 KBF Grant Recipient who is skiing for only her second winter (and doing really well!).


Watching Naomi ski felt like stepping into a time machine. I could literally have been watching myself ski the first couple years. The instability, the anxiety when I felt like other monoskiers were watching me, the constant falls when I was on a steep section of a trail. The whole experience of watching her ski brought me back to when I was first learning. Even her skiing style, how her head would tip into the hill and she leaned forward as she was starting her turn, reminded me of myself when I was starting.

But let me be clear: Naomi was much braver and a quicker learner than I was! Being a 19-year-old college kid, I decided to just teach myself to monoski. That was a mistake and it took me a couple years before I really felt comfortable and independent. I’m sure I could have had a different experience if I went through an adaptive programs (like Vermont Adaptive or Spaulding Adaptive Sports, who both helped us out with the “Ski With Kelly”), but hindsight is always 20/20, right?! Naomi is on a much better track!


Naomi – if you’re reading this, you’re doing great! Can’t wait to ski with you next time and we’ll have you ready for that trip to Whistler in no time!


Dylan Update

We have a crawler! She was a little late to the game with crawling, but you won’t hear complaints from Zeke or me! Now that it’s game on, it has been really fun to watch her crawl around and explore her surroundings, but we’ve realized how much we need to baby proof! So many low shelves with books, papers, or knick-knacks (obviously things are on low shelves for me!). She also loves our dog’s water dish! Both Zeke and I have commented that seeing her crawling makes her seem so much more grown up. She is still very smiley and happy (most of the time!) and watching her explore and learn about her world is so much fun!

In Kelly’s Words – I teach now?


Last week I spoke to an undergraduate entrepreneurship class in Boston. Not because I have any educational or entrepreneurship skills (well, other than starting a foundation…), but because they’re looking into something that I live everyday.


The back-story: my mother-in-law, Mary, is a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College. She is teaching a semester-long workshop that applies a design thinking approach to a single problem over the course of the semester. She enlisted Zeke and me to help her come up with and frame the “grand challenge”. Our challenge for the class: “How might we better improve outcomes in the first year following a traumatic injury causing permanent physical disability”.


After making a video to introduce it the first week of class, last week Zeke and I went down to talk with the students. They pitched us on their rough ideas, asked for our feedback, and we provided resources and topics for research that may be helpful.


It was really interesting. It allowed me to see what someone with zero experience with a physical disability (like me when I started college) perceived as the biggest obstacles following a traumatic injury. A few groups focused on accessibility of public transportation. Another group talked about accessibility of college campuses and ways to incentivize campuses to become more inclusive. Higher education is prohibitive for many because of cost, but it shouldn’t be because of accessibility!


One group focused on mentorship between previously injured and newly injured individuals. I think facilitating mentorship is ripe for progress. There are a lot of mentorship programs out there, but it is always hard to match people with similar interests and backgrounds. Often the only thing people have in common is the injury! Hearing from someone who is in a similar situation and how they managed everything that you are now facing is huge, but it has to be someone you connect with—and are willing to ask personal questions to.


When I first presented the Grand Challenge I assumed they would all focus on employment. We even quoted some pretty startling statistics about disability and employment (the numbers vary, but no study shows more than a 33% employment rate). Surprisingly to me none of the groups focused on or even talked about employment. It’s obviously a big obstacle but an incredibly important step. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in staying home and feeling as though you can’t contribute. Employment can not only provide financial benefits, but it can also show an individual that he/she can still be part of a community, engage in society, and be social.


From my perspective, sports and recreation are incredibly important to recovery. I believe that sports and being active allow someone to engage with society and learn they can do everything they did before, just maybe in a slightly different way. That was certainly my experience and what led me and my family to start the Kelly Brush Foundation.


The class at Babson has all semester to focus their idea and come up with a plan. I’m excited to follow their progress and see what ideas they come up with! Do you have any ideas? You can email me at [email protected]


Dylan Update

We had our first plane ride! We traveled to Colorado for Inspire!Denver (read the recap here) a couple weeks ago and brought Dylan with us. She doesn’t sleep in our arms well (she’s a great sleeper, but she only likes to sleep in her crib) so we were nervous about her naps during our travel days. She only napped for 15 minutes total on the way out, but slept for a couple hours on the way back. On the way home we had flights later in the day so she was tired and slept most of our last flight. Even though she didn’t sleep much on the way out she was generally really happy and didn’t cry much at all. The key to keep her happy was new and novel toys—the airplane cups and our snack wrappers worked great! Traveling for Zeke and I was much less restless and more stressful, but thankfully Dylan made it pretty easy!

In Kelly’s Words – A new sport (for me)!


fullsizerender-5I find that I appreciate sports a lot more than I did before my injury. Which is saying a lot because my life before my injury was all sports: an NCAA ski racer; graduate of a ski academy; my mother was an Olympian; my father a former college football player and skier and then coach. As I always tell people when they ask why we started the KBF, I thought after my accident that I would never be an “athlete” again. Then I learned about adaptive sports and what I could still do. Sports are inclusive; I don’t feel different or excluded. This is huge for everyone in the disabled community and one of the missions of the KBF.


Well almost 11 years after my injury, I experienced a new one over the holidays: hockey. And being included was incredible!


My parents have a pond in their back yard that we used to skate on in the winter as kids. Over the last several years since my sister moved back to Vermont and then we did this past summer, we have started maintaining the ice again. But in the years since my injury, I could never skate. I went on it with my wheelchair a couple times and a few times sat on a sled and my family pulled me around. But I wasn’t skating and often I stayed inside and watched because I was cold just sitting not doing anything active.


This winter, though, my parents gifted me a hockey sled for Christmas! I had never tried it and always thought it looked hard! When I got in it for the first time it was simple and amazing! I use two small hockey sticks that have picks on the end to push myself around on the ice. Now I’m out on the pond skating with my family, passing the puck around, and pulling Dylan or my nephews in a sled behind me. It has been a while since I have played a new sport but it felt great to just be out on the ice with everyone again.


To be clear, we’re skiers, not hockey players. It must be really funny for good skaters to watch us all out there fumbling around in ski helmets, but that’s what makes it so fun!


Now, what do I say to Patrick Standen of Northeast Disabled Athletic Association who’s been recruiting me to get on the ice for the Vermont Sled Cats for years?!?!


Dylan Update:

img_7115We have had our first real illness! She has had colds throughout the fall but she usually felt fine, they were just mild coughs and a runny nose. And we even had a little bit of a stomach bug with some vomiting and diarrhea a couple months ago. But last week she had her first high fever (up to 104) and was a really unhappy and miserable looking kid. Being a pediatric nurse practitioner I see sick kids every day and assess what is going on with them and what to worry about. This helped a lot…. Well, kind of…. It’s extremely hard to be objective with my own kid, but the knowledge helps. It has been a long road with fever, coughing, vomiting, an ear infection, and a kid who won’t sleep or eat well, but I think we are on the other side of it now. It’s sad to see Dylan so miserable but she was also very cute and cuddly so that made it just a little bit better. As all experiences with Dylan, I hope this will make me a better and more empathetic nurse practitioner!

In Kelly’s Words – Why the KBF? Why Now?


kelly-ride-photoThis time of year we all get asked by a lot of organization to give. We ask too, but it’s not usually me (I leave it to Zeke and our awesome fundraisers)! I’m the “Thank You” person!

This year is different. It has been an INCREDIBLE year for the KBF and I want to take a minute to explain why the Kelly Brush Foundation and why now.

Why the Kelly Brush Foundation?

After my injury all of my closest friends were still ski racing – including my sister and my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband). While I was still in rehab, my family and I committed ourselves to making sure an injury like mine doesn’t happen to anyone ever again in the sport of alpine ski racing. We wanted safety to no longer be an afterthought. The Kelly Brush Foundation was born.

We advocate ski racing safety at all levels and to every club around the country. A big part of what we preach is proper (and sufficient) use of b-netting. To put our money where our mouth is, we help clubs buy safety equipment when they need it. Now, because of my injury and our work through the KBF, safety is a priority during racing and training across the United States. There is always more to do, but I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished—and where the sport has come—in the 11 years since my accident.

While our ski racing safety mission focuses on prevention, our adaptive sports mission focuses on empowerment. We empower others with my injury the same way I was empowered by getting back to sports. Before my injury I identified as an athlete. I didn’t truly feel like “myself”—or feel I would ever be myself again—until I got into a handcycle, felt the wind in my hair, and was introduced to the world of “adaptive” sports. We gave this same gift to almost two hundreds people from around the country this year. I can’t stress how important it is. How much do you value your active lifestyle? We add that value to someone’s life when it’s needed most.

Why Now?

For a long time, the Kelly Brush Foundation was just the Kelly Brush Ride. We organized it all summer, paid our bills, counted how much money we had left, and gave it out. Which, don’t get me wrong, was awesome!

That all changed in 2014. New events, new employees, new advocacy. A huge commitment! We’ve doubled in size in the last 2 years. But demand has more than tripled! This is awesome—it means our impact is growing—but it also means we can’t keep up and makes the decisions even harder!

My promise to you: anything you give now will keep a kid safe or empower someone the way sports have empowered me in the coming months! Finding people to help is not the problem. We have more requests each cycle than we can handle! The problem is funding every request that is deserving. If you see the good in our mission, I hope you will find it in your budget to give something (honestly anything!) this year-end.

Donate Now

Dylan Update

For those that are still reading, I know what you’re expecting and I won’t disappoint! She got her first tooth! It’s hard to see so I don’t have a great picture of it but you can definitely feel it! She didn’t seem bothered by it coming in, we never noticed any classic “teething” symptoms. It has been fun giving her solid foods though she isn’t that excited about them all the time. So many people say their kids loved everything and just wanted to eat solids and didn’t want bottles as much. I know some kids take longer to warm up to the idea of solids and I guess Dylan is just one of those. Her recent favorite is carrots and her least favorite seems to be mangos (she makes a really funny face that suggests it is really sour for her).

In Kelly’s Words – How kids react to my wheelchair

IMG_6618One of the things I love about kids is that they are unfiltered. They don’t know about being polite or politically correct or not asking certain questions for one reason or another. And in my job as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at Hagan, Rinehart & Connolly Pediatricians in Burlington, VT, I have 1-on-1 interactions with a lot of kids!

I often have kids reacting to me in ways that would, to most adults, seem inappropriate. For example, I walk in the room (I use the verb walk as anyone else would, I see no point to change just because technically I’m rolling and not walking) and before I can even introduce myself the 5-year-old says, “Why are you in that?”. My response is usually the same, “What do you mean? [pause] Oh, my wheelchair?”.

The responses of kids vary greatly based on their age. Young kids, under age 3 probably, often just stare at my chair, too shy to say anything really but clearly fascinated or curious. Older kids, about age 7 or so, stare at my chair but look away when they see that I notice to try to try hide that they were staring but not doing a very good job of it. And the age I love the most for their reaction is the 3 to 7 who have the, “Why do you need that?” reaction.

I much prefer kids—and adults—to ask about my chair than to either stare or just wonder silently and not ask. People are curious because it is something different that they don’t understand. They aren’t trying to be hurtful or inappropriate, they are just trying to learn and understand. I love that! I want to explain!

My answer to my patients varies based on their age usually. It is typically some variation of, “I hurt my back a long time ago so now my legs don’t work well so I use this to get around.” Rather than having them feel sorry for me, I immediately show them something “cool” about my chair like, “It can go really fast,” or “I like it because it’s blue”. Most often parents then chime in and say something like “Yeah isn’t that cool?” If a parent or older kid asks I sometimes elaborate more about how my spinal cord was damaged. Often that’s followed by, “Oh, I’m sorry” or “That’s too bad,” for which I respond, “It’s not bad, I’m still able to do everything I used to do.” Even though I like these conversations I usually don’t try to let them drag on too much and I fairly quickly turn the conversation back to the patient and what they came in for.

What I’m really interested in seeing–and will only play out over time–is the reaction of kids who know me well. I have 3 nephews ranging in age from 2 and a half to 4 months. And, obviously, my 6 month-old daughter Dylan. Dylan will have grown up riding on my lap and having my wheelchair around. She will know no different. Will she someday ask why I use a wheelchair and other people don’t? I wonder when she’ll get there and what will make her think of that. Often time kids will ask if they can ride on my lap or push me around (usually in social settings, this happens less in my office in a professional setting). I wonder if Dylan will want to do these things or if it will kind of be old news to her.

I’m sure one day Dylan will ask about my chair and I bet there will even be a day that she’s embarrassed that I’m in a chair (I mean, I’m her mom, it’ll just be one of many things that will embarrass her…). I also hope there will be a day that she’s proud. But most of all, I hope that when people ask her about why her mom is in a chair she comes up with an answer that she’s comfortable with and explains it simply, just like I have with my patients. I guess that’s on me to guide that conversation as she starts to recognize and contextualize the difference. Just one of the unique parts of my relationship with Dylan!


Dylan Update

IMG_6619Just a quick one today. Dylan is a happy kid! It’s funny to hear the “teachers” at daycare remark on how far she’s come in the 2 months she’s been there. She’s gone from being one of the most high maintenance kids in the room to one of the easiest and happiest. We feel the same way at home. She has a jumper that she LOVES. She’s sitting up fairly consistently and making new “human” discoveries every day. We have started giving her solid foods as well which has been a lot of fun. She isn’t the best at eating them but certainly enjoys the process. It’s fun to see what foods she likes and which take a few tries for her to warm up to. We have yet to find anything that she really won’t eat.