Five Years On NOT AN ANNIVERSARY FOR LOOKING BACK, BUT ONE FOR REFLECTING ON GREATNESS AND AMAZEMENT BY BILL MCCOLLOM
On the evening of Feb. 18, 2006, I was hunched over my computer in the Olympic press center in Sestriere, Italy. I was marveling at the athleticism that was on display at the Torino Olympic
Winter Games, and absorbed in recounting the heroics of the day.
Suddenly my computer started beeping, indicating that I was getting bombed with emails. I ignored them for a while and then succumbed to curiosity.
As I scanned the collection of emails, I started picking out the
phrases, “multiple contusions,” “broken bones,” and “serious spinal
injuries.” My vision blurred and my heart raced when I read that
Kelly Brush, the daughter of one of my good college friends, had
been in a ski racing accident at a college carnival and was now in
critical condition at the hospital in Pittsfield, Mass.
Within a few days the long-term diagnosis became clearer. She
would live, but would use a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Shortly
thereafter, Kelly flew to the Craig Hospital in Denver to start rehabilitation. While she grappled with trying to accept what her future
might hold, her devastated parents, Charlie and Mary, took up residence with her in Denver, as did her boyfriend, Zeke Davisson. All
were seeking just a glimmer of hope.
On Feb. 18, 2011, five years after her accident, Kelly’s email server
started going bonkers. She was getting inundated with notes from
all over the country, and they just kept on coming. They were notes
of congratulations and messages of love and support, all express-
ing awe at just how far Kelly had come in five short years.
Kelly didn’t have too much time to gloat, however. She had to leave
her Boston apartment and catch the MTA for Mass General Hospi-
tal, where she’s enrolled in the Institute of Health Professions, an
intensive program leading to a nurse practitioner degree. Maybe
later that evening she’d have time to check on any recent grants
offered by the Kelly Brush Foundation, which she and her family
established to put the spotlight on the need to improve safety in ski
Kelly has clearly moved on. “This anniversary is not a day for look-
ing back and being sad,” she said. “It’s a day to reflect on the great
and amazing things that I’ve done over the past five years.”
This is not to say that this five-year journey has not had its share
of twists and turns. Most victims of accidents of this nature spend a
great deal of time wallowing in despair, but a series of visits at the
Craig Hospital from Paralympic multi-gold medalist Sarah Will soon
provided Kelly and her family with a vision of Kelly’s future.
“Seeing Sarah drive into the parking lot, assemble her chair, and
come up to see Kelly, I realized that there could be a ‘new normal,’
a chance that life will go on,” said Charlie Brush. “Things would for-
ever be different, but in no way diminished.”
Kelly’s reaction to meeting Will was equally inspiring. “I saw how
she coped with her injury,” said Kelly, “and how it was possible to
live a regular life and even ski with a spinal cord injury.”
It was Kelly who played the leading role in not only her recovery,
but in that of her family, as well. “There’s a lot of fight in Kelly,” said
Charlie. “She let the family move forward by letting us know that
she was going to be all right.”
Setting goals and stubbornly chasing after them was another key to
her recovery. Despite missing a semester of classes at Middlebury
College, she went to summer school and then graduated with her
class. She even learned to ski on a sit-down mono-ski well enough
to forerun the giant slalom at the Middlebury Carnival her senior
year, an emotional descent that didn’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Her accomplishments caught the eye of the NCAA, which awarded
Kelly with the NCAA Inspiration Award in the winter of 2009.
But she didn’t stop there. Driving a car, learning new sports, get-
ting a job and living independently soon received checks on her
goal sheet. Other goals such as completing the Boston Marathon
this spring and completing her nurse practitioner’s degree are also
well within sight.
Kelly is not afraid to share where her journey has taken her so far.
“My perspective has changed so much over these five years,” said
Kelly. “Sure, everyone grows up during this period of time, but I’ve
had to go through so much more. I’ve had to figure it all out pretty
quickly, but it’s made me more aware of who I am, and I’ve been
able to embrace that.”
After five years, Charlie and Mary have also finally found a degree
of peace. “I think of all the angst that’s been with me as being stuffed
into a box in the corner,” said Charlie. “Occasionally the lid comes
off and the demons are let loose, but more and more the lid remains
sealed. When Kelly left for Boston to start her new program, it was
the first time I didn’t worry.”
Kelly concluded: “I’ve grown a lot as a person from when I was 19
to now at 24. What was a sad and tragic situation that happened
five years ago, I sometimes think has been a kind of blessing in
disguise. Who knows what I’d be doing if this didn’t happen? But I
love what I’m doing; Zeke and I ski whenever we can, and I’m com-
fortable in my own skin.”
If we all could be so lucky.
SkiRacing.com MARCH 17, 2011 | 56