Skiing accident didn’t stop this determined athlete
Last year, Kelly Brush Davisson achieved one of her life goals: to ski Tuckerman’s Ravine — the challenging bowl on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. This past May, she achieved another: She gave birth to her daughter, Dylan.
Ten years ago, those goals might have been different. They might have been to be an All-American skier at Middlebury College, where she was on the Alpine ski team. They might have been to do a lot of things. But on Jan. 18, 2006, in a matter of seconds a clock can never count, her life changed.
“I don’t remember anything until I woke up from surgery,” Brush recalls. “I had a tube down my throat and everyone was there. ‘You hurt your back,’ was all my dad said, and we’re going to figure it out.”
Her father, Charlie Brush, skied for Middlebury and later coached skiing and football there. Kelly’s mother, Mary Seaton Brush, was a World Cup ski racer and competed in the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics. Kelly’s sister Lindsay was on the Middlebury ski team.
Kelly was dating Middlebury skier Zeke Davisson. They were both at Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts racing in the Williams Winter Carnival.
When Zeke heard what had happened to Kelly in a race — she had caught an edge, spun backwards, catapulted into a lift stanchion and then off the trail — he rushed to the scene. “Her helmet had shattered and blown off. She was barely conscious, and her breathing was irregular,” he remembers. She had a collapsed lung, four broken ribs, a broken vertebrae in her back and a spinal fracture.
Kelly’s spinal cord injury left her paralyzed from the waist down, confining her to a wheelchair. But in 10 years, that’s not stopped her from cycling (on a hand cycle), playing tennis, surfing (“it’s more like boogie-boarding,” she admits), sailing, or skiing, with Zeke’s help, Tuckerman’s Ravine a year ago.
“I honestly don’t think my life is very different than if I hadn’t had my accident,” she says. “I would not have started the foundation but everything else, I just do.”
That foundation — the Kelly Brush Foundation — has changed the lives of hundreds of others with spinal cord injuries. It has done that, in large part, through the money it has raised in the Kelly Brush Ride, a bike tour through Addison County that will mark it’s 11th year this coming Saturday.
“That year (of Kelly’s accident) our ski coach, Forest Carey, told us each to go out and raise $1,000 and we’d do a century ride for Kelly in the fall,” Zeke remembers. “About 25 of us rode 100 miles. “Instead of raising $25,000, the team raised $60,000. That initial money went to help pay for a hand cycle and sit-ski, which costs about $12,000.
A year later, Kelly and her family set up the Kelly Brush Foundation and the Kelly Brush Ride drew hundreds of cyclists and raised more than $100,000. In the years since, the ride has regularly drawn 600 to 700 cyclists, including about two dozen hand cyclists who ride anywhere from 25 to 100 miles.
After the accident, Kelly spent a week in the intensive care unit and then two months at the Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver. After six weeks, she tried a hand cycle. “That was the first time she felt the wind in her hair and she could feel like an athlete again,” Zeke says.
Since then, Kelly and the foundation have been working to bring that feeling to others. In 2012 she and Zeke were married and in 2015 Zeke left his job as an attorney to run the foundation. This spring, Kelly finished nursing school in Maine and the couple moved back to Vermont.
So far, the foundation has helped purchase more than 300 pieces of adaptive ski equipment. Grants have gone to people like Kevin McDonald, 41, who fell from a deck. Last winter, using a sit-ski, McDonald was able to ski with his son at Killington for the first time since the accident.
Another grantee is Amber Clark. While Kelly was in the Craig rehab hospital, her roommate was Amber Clark.
“It was strange, she had the exact same injury as I did, at the exact same time and we were about the same age, but that was where the similarities ended,” Kelly recalls.
Clark, who was working at a Subway sandwich shop at the time, had an accident while tubing. After the women left the hospital, the two lost touch.
“Then one day Amber reached out to me on Facebook,” Kelly says. “She had gained weight and was out of shape. She now had two sons and told me the hardest part about her accident was not being able to ride with them.”
Clark applied and earned a grant that bought her a hand cycle. By riding it she has lost 45 pounds.
“She said to me, ‘You know, I was always using my injury as an excuse. Now I see it doesn’t have to be,” Kelly says.
And for Kelly, it hasn’t.
“I’ve never once heard Kelly say, ‘Oh, why me,’ or really dwell on it,” says Zeke.
“My sister and Zeke have been my biggest allies,” Kelly says. “They just push me and say, hey were going to find a way to do this.”
That attitude may be something Kelly was born with. In 2013 her parents were snowcat skiing in Chatter Creek, British Columbia, when an avalanche buried her father. When he was finally dug out, Charlie Brush was blue and not breathing. The guides administered CPR. Brush recovered and was back cat skiing the next day.
“That was pretty surreal,” Kelly recalls. “It’s another reminder that life is pretty precious. And that sometimes we get second chances.”
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