“I don’t think my life is any different…I’m married, I have a baby, I work in the field that I wanted to work in, I graduated from Middlebury.” Sounds like a pretty good life, huh? This is a snapshot of Kelly Brush’s life to date. Kelly is the founder of the Kelly Brush Foundation, a foundation which helps athletes with paralysis purchase adaptive sports equipment. But in spite of her apparent success and selflessness, the most incredible thing about Kelly Brush is that she is able to accomplish all of this after suffering a paralyzing injury herself. In her second year racing for Middlebury’s ski team, Kelly experienced a terrible skiing accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Not only did she become paralyzed, but her accident also left her with four fractured ribs, a fractured a vertebra in her neck, and a collapsed a lung. Kelly spent months in hospitals and missed an entire semester of school while adjusting to her new lifestyle.
Before her accident, Kelly was involved in all kinds of sports. “It was something I loved to do…It was a huge part of my life,” says Kelly. When news came that she was going to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life, she immediately thought she would never be able to ski again. “It was sort of terrifying for me when I felt like that was the case,” Kelly told me in our interview. And yet in spite of any fears she might have had, the love and support of her family members and friends inspired her positive attitude throughout the rehabilitation process. “I wasn’t really discouraged…it was sort of like ‘next thing. What do I have to do next?’”
While Kelly was in rehab, she was introduced to adaptive sports. Adaptive sports are competitive sports for persons with disabilities with modified rules and accepted equipment to meet the needs of the participants. “I was able to get my hands on a hand cycle for the first time when I was in rehab. And it was amazing, I felt so great…it really opened my eyes that my life wasn’t over.” But in spite of the joy Kelly found in adaptive sports, she was frustrated to learn that the equipment required to participate in adaptive sports was extremely expensive. “After you have an injury like this, you already have a higher cost of living, and then the idea of having to spend a couple thousand dollars to get a piece of equipment like this is so hard for so many people. I knew how important it was in my recovery in learning about sports…I wanted that to be an opportunity for everybody,” says Kelly.
Kelly’s desire to help injured athletes regain their active lifestyle inspired her to start the Kelly Brush Foundation. Founded in 2006, the KBF is committed to “empowering those with paralysis to lead engaging and fulfilling lives through sport and recreation.” The foundation provides grants to injured athletes who demonstrate financial needs, so that they can easily purchase the equipment needed to participate in adaptive sports. The foundation also provides grants to ski clubs around the country so they can purchase the necessary safety equipment to prevent ski accidents. On top of these grant programs, the KBF partners with competitive adaptive sports programs to encourage their participants to take their talents to the next level.
I asked Kelly to define kindness. “This is going to be super cliche,” she said, “but doing to others what you would have done unto you.” Although we’ve been hearing the “Golden Rule” since we were kids,that doesn’t make the cliche any less true or important. Kelly embodies this definition of kindness to the fullest extent. When I asked Kelly what the foundation means to her she said, “For me, I am providing an opportunity for others that they may not otherwise have, and an opportunity that I know is incredibly powerful.” What Kelly learned from her own experience not only enabled her to empathize with people in her same position today, but also inspired her to take action to make a difference in her lives.
But the only way we can treat others the way you want to be treated is if we embrace the experiences, stories, and emotions that make us who we are no matter how difficult. By accepting these challenges and learning from them, we gain self-understanding and can therefore treat others with the kindness and love we all want and deserve.