In December, I often jump on the “year in review” bandwagon and use this blog to reflect on the year that was. Usually, I talk about individual highlights or overall rates of growth, but this time I want to focus on why I think 2023 has been our most impactful year ever.

2023 was a year in which we built on our core programs to reach more people with spinal cord injuries (SCI) in more targeted ways. More people learned about the KBF and were empowered by our programs to live their best lives than ever before.

The Active Fund, where we help people with SCI purchase adaptive sports equipment, has been our longest-running and most well-known program. We gave our first grant in 2007 (KBF was founded in 2006), and I remember it well. The woman came to my parents’ house (where I was living at the time), we gave her a check for a Nordic sit ski, and she was so excited and grateful for the independence this was going to give her. Now we deliver that kind of news to hundreds of people every year. While the process is quite a bit different, the impact of each grant is the same. This year, for the second year in a row, we are giving out about $ 1 million in grants, which means over 300 people will be active independently once again because of the KBF. This is amazing!

Every time I get into my equipment when I get to be active independently and be out with family and friends, I’m reminded how powerful this equipment is. I feel that impact every day. I also know how disheartening it is to sit on the sidelines and watch when I don’t have the right equipment. That’s a feeling that even I am not immune to. That is why this program is so near and dear to my heart.

But that $ 1 million in grants was just the beginning for 2023.

The Active Project, an online resource and platform for connecting and learning about adaptive sports, was officially launched in January this year and we now have over 1,800 individual users and over 350 adaptive sports programs signed up on the platform.

It was 2018 when the Active Project was a twinkle in our eyes. Zeke and I sat down with a long-time KBF supporter in the Bay Area to talk about how we could scale a resource that reaches more people with SCI. Grants through the Active Fund make an incredible impact, but people have had to go through a lot of steps before being ready for their own equipment. They need to be introduced to and learn about adaptive sports, believe that it’s something they can and want to try, try the activity, and then get to a place where they are comfortable doing it on their own. We wondered how we could help support the SCI community through this process. The Active Project is the all-in-one platform that allows anyone in the country to find out how, where, and when to be active, and who they can do it with.

2023 was also a year in which the KBF team traveled the country to show people what it has to offer. Our team has been at Ability Expos (the multi-city, adaptive resource convention) all over the country, at rehab hospitals and support groups, and so many other places launching the Active Project. The Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation was so excited about the Active Project they awarded us a grant to help us reach people within a year of their injury. To do that, we are partnering with their peer support programs to introduce the Active Project in key hospitals around the country. 2023 was an awesome launching pad for this and I’m so excited to see where 2024 takes us!

At the same time that we’re bringing resources digitally to households around the country, we’ve also doubled down on the old analog method for changing lives: we physically brought people together in small, supportive environments built around sports and recreation for truly transformational experiences. This year we hosted or supported 6 different multi-day, sports-based camps around the country. We had camps where people skied and mountain biked on the same day (check out this video about our Turns and Berms camps); camps for recently injured adolescents only (no parents allowed!); and camps for general wellness with activity at the forefront. Camps not only introduce people to sports and activities and help them to hone their skills, but they provide a community where people can share stories and life hacks and creates comradery in an incredibly unique and invaluable way. We had one camp that brought together someone in the first 18 months of their injury who was anxious being away from home alone for a few days with a decorated Paralympian and adaptive sports pioneer who has traveled the globe to compete, but the sport was a new one for both of them. The camp provided a venue to grow for both, and they both had incredible experiences.

On top of camps, we had 10 other SCI community meet-ups across the country where we got nearly 300 people together to do something active or just hang out together. The sense of community these meet-ups foster is amazing and allows people to connect to others in similar situations, learn from each other, and build confidence in the lives they are living. And on top of that, they’re just fun!

If there is one thing I’m proud of this year it is the number of people we’re meeting and the impact we’re having. I know that life after a spinal cord injury can be great, and I truly believe that being active is an awesome conduit for living your best life. The KBF is sharing this message with so many people earlier on after their injuries and setting them up for a happy and productive life. What could be greater than that!?