In Kelly’s Words – The Ride
Here’s how I explain the history of the Kelly Brush Foundation: “We were an event, the Kelly Brush Ride, from 2006 until 2014 when we were at an inflection point and could either stay small or grow. We chose to grow.” And while this explanation shows that we’re way more than the Kelly Brush Ride, the constant at the KBF is and always will be the Kelly Brush Ride.
The Kelly Brush Ride was started by my ski team teammates at Middlebury College after my injury in 2006. They decided they would each bike 100 miles the first weekend back to school and raise money to buy me a monoski. That ride was a wild success and every year since we have been raising money to help support others with spinal cord injuries (SCI) to get out and be active on their own terms. And it continues to be a place for the ski racing community to come together and honor the progress we’ve made since my injury.
What is wild about the Ride is how today, 16 years later, 7 of which with huge organizational growth, it runs and functions remarkably similar to how it was the first few years.
We start and finish in the same location. The set up of the start/finish area has expanded but otherwise generally looks the same–anyone who has come year after year knows exactly where to go to register, to get their breakfast and coffee, and to hang out after their ride. We have had the same loop since year 3 (which is only slightly different from years 1 and 2). And the energy and fun that was felt at the first few years of the Ride is still the same. I always say my favorite day of the year is the Kelly Brush Ride and that’s because of the people I see and the energy I feel from everyone coming together to support the KBF.
Photo from the 2011 KBF Ride
While the Kelly Brush Ride looks and feels the same, the funds raised year after year are making an even greater impact. The mission of the Kelly Brush Foundation has remained the same since our founding in 2006. We continue to get people with spinal cord injuries out and active, or, officially, we inspire and empower people with SCI to live active and engaged lives. But the way we fulfill our mission has expanded greatly.
Our biggest and longest running program, the Active Fund, provides grants to people with SCI for adaptive sports equipment. Since COVID hit, we have given away over $900,000 in adaptive sports equipment grants to 250 individuals to help them get out and be active on their own terms. These grants change the lives of not only the individual but their family and friends as well. Check out this video we just received to see the impact of one of these grants.
In February of this year we launched the Active Project in beta, which is the first attempt to bring all the available information about being active with an SCI together into one website and enable real-life connections. Since our launch we’ve continued to improve functionalities and have learned a lot from our community who will use this resource about what is truly needed. We are excited about the very positive reception and we’re working to make this an even more useful and functional tool for the SCI community.
We have also re-imagined our Path2Active program, which is our way of partnering with adaptive sports programs and SCI rehab facilities to introduce sports to people earlier after their injury. We are in the early stages or updating our guidelines on this program to be even more inclusive which is, I think, a really fun and great step for the KBF. Stay tuned!
Lastly, we are getting more involved in camps for people with SCI to foster sports and recreation as well as connection between people who have an incredibly unique shared experience. In October we will host out first KBF adaptive mountain bike camp in Vermont. In August this year, we funded a camp in Colorado put on by Steamboat Adaptive Recreation Sports (STARS) and Craig Hospital (an incredible SCI rehab in Colorado). Greg Durso, our program director, attended part of the camp and said it was one of the most powerful experiences of his life. We have high hopes of adding even more camps in 2022 and beyond!
In 2014 the Ride was organized by one or two part-time, contract-based event planners who built an incredible event. We are now a staff of 8! This small but mighty team plans the Ride, organizes several other large and small fundraisers each year around the country, and executes our impactful and growing programming.
I love when events allow me to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. My takeaway is that while the Ride remains remarkably similar and steady, the ways in which we are supporting the spinal cord injury community have grown exponentially. So here is my ask: will you please support me and the KBF as we continue to grow and support the SCI community? Will you ride in, volunteer at, or donate to the Kelly Brush Ride? Come to Middlebury to see old and new friends or ride on a trail or road of your choosing to support us from afar.
In so many ways it is the same event, just with a much larger impact. What could be better?!