In Kelly’s Words – My 15 Year Injury Anniversary
15 years…. Has it really been that long? Sometimes these anniversaries surprise me, and that was certainly the case for the 15-year anniversary of my spinal cord injury on February 18, 2021. I don’t dwell on my injury and what happened to me but when a big anniversary comes up it forces (and allows) me to reflect on that time.
I still remember the day I got hurt and the weekend leading up to it as if it were yesterday. I’ve told the story of my crash, emergency room visit, and subsequent hospital and rehab stay countless times. But there are other small details that I still remember that aren’t particularly relevant. For example, when I pushed out of the starting gate on the run that I crashed I remember the wind whipping up the hill so hard that I waited a couple extra seconds after the starter said go (the clock doesn’t actually start until I push out of the starting gate) to let the gust pass. I remember using a flashlight to go to the bathroom in the lodge the day before because the power had gone out at the mountain. These are mundane memories, but it makes me realize the significance of that day in my life.
Photo of Kelly ski racing taken just moments before her spinal cord injury
As I reflect on the day I got hurt I inevitably think about what my life has been like since and what I’ve accomplished. So here is a snapshot of my life at the major milestones.
The morning of February 18th, 2006. I was a sophomore at Middlebury College majoring in film and media. I had been dating Zeke for about a year. I was carefree and living the best college life I could have hoped for. The Kelly Brush Foundation wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye (though would be thought of and founded over the next couple of months).
5 years later (2011). I was living in Boston and was in my first year of graduate school to become a nurse practitioner. Zeke and I were still dating and would get engaged later that year. I was training for the Boston marathon that I would complete in April 2011. The Kelly Brush Foundation raised $290,000 that year and it was the first year that we started to give more grants for adaptive sports equipment than for our ski racing safety mission (a trend that would continue and balloon).
Ten years later (2016). I was living in Maine and working as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Zeke (who started as the Executive Director of KBF in 2014) and I talked a lot about KBF but I was still not actively participating in the day-to-day operations. I was pregnant with my first baby. The winter before (2015) I had a dog team of friends who pulled me up Mt. Washington so I could ski Tuckerman Ravine. Check out this video! The Kelly Brush Foundation raised $560,000 that year and for the first time held a spring Active Fund grant cycle, essentially doubling the number of adaptive sports grants we awarded annually.
Today, 15 years later (2021). I’m living in Vermont, splitting my time equally between working as a pediatric nurse practitioner and working at the Kelly Brush Foundation. Zeke and I have two beautiful girls, Dylan (4.5 years) and Nell (almost 2 years). My active lifestyle is the ultimate weekend warrior and mom – I mountain bike, road bike, alpine and Nordic ski (well, to be fair, I have gone Nordic skiing twice this year…), almost always with a kid in tow or in a short window of time I have to myself. The Kelly Brush Foundation has more than tripled in size in the past 5 years and we just launched a new interactive web-based platform called the Active Project that is a big step in connecting even more with the spinal cord injury community and allowing access to adaptive sports for everyone.
Reflecting on my life in this way, the anniversaries of my injury have come at big personal and professional moments: graduate school and getting engaged (5 years); the start of my career as nurse practitioner and first pregnancy (10 years); and my deepening engagement today with the growth of the KBF as we welcome a new Executive Director. (You can read Zeke’s blog about moving on from the KBF here.)
And the KBF has had some big milestones at the same time! Thinking back on those first 5 years, making decisions around the Brush family kitchen table, our focus was on ski racing safety and changing the culture around safety to make it more of a priority. I’m so proud of what we have been able to accomplish. Around 2011 our passion for making a change in the spinal cord injury community really grew, overtaking the scope of our ski racing mission as an organizational priority, though both remain a priority today. In 2016 we doubled down on making life-changing adaptive sports equipment grants, taking a huge leap in our impact nationwide.
This year, 2021, we are deepening the scope and reach of our mission, bringing the opportunity to be active to everyone with a spinal cord injury through the Active Project. As the Kelly Brush Foundation has continued to grow we have seen a gap in information and knowledge about the possibilities of living an active lifestyle after a spinal cord injury. This is a gap that we are uniquely positioned to fill. As I think about the next 5 years at the Kelly Brush Foundation, I hope the Active Project will allow for deepening the connections between those in the SCI community as well as reaching a greater number of people and showing, not only the possibilities, but also the benefits of living an active lifestyle after a spinal cord injury.
Sports and being active was a passion of mine before my injury, but when I got hurt it took on an even greater significance in my life. I can look back on the 5 year milestones in my life and they are all largely dominated by sports. At age 5 I was just getting into skiing and trying t-ball and soccer. At 10 I was playing little league at the field down the street from our house with my mom as the coach and I was winning ski races. At 15 I was climbing the ranks in ski racing while loving soccer and lacrosse in the off season. And at 20 I was thinking back on all of those years and reflecting on what sports really mean to me. My life continues to revolve around sports because that is what I love.
And now I get to pass that love on to my kids and see what sports will mean to them.
When I think about my next 5 years it is all based around my kids (I was told this would happen)! In 5 years from now Dylan will be 9 and Nell will be almost 7. I picture family skiing and mountain biking on the trails that Zeke is building around our house. I dream about reading Harry Potter together and working on school projects. And most of all, I hope the girls see me as an example of forging your own path and living the life you want to live no matter what you are dealt.