Brush Davisson, foundation going strong
By Linda Freeman
CORRESPONDENT | January 20,2013
FILE PHOTO PROVIDED
Kelly Brush Davisson is pictured in the foreground as handcyclists line up for the start of last year’s Kelly Brush Century Ride in Middlebury.
Kelly Brush Davisson is much like other young women her age. Having grown up and attending schools in Vermont, she loves the outdoors and sports. Like other young women she happily prepared for her wedding last summer and giggled when trying on bridal gowns. After her big day, she and her new husband jumped on a plane and headed to Europe for their honeymoon trip. Davisson does stand out above the rest as an athlete. In 2012 she won her division of the Boston Marathon and when I tried to catch up with her for an interview, she was in Whistler skiing.
Like other young women in her 20s she is busy with graduate studies and anxious about her upcoming finals as she prepares to be a nurse practitioner specializing in family health. Like others, she is vivacious, enthusiastic, generous, caring and loyal to her many friends.
Unlike other young women her age. Davisson is paralyzed below the waist.
Alexander Wolff, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, resides in Cornwall in Addison County. Having lived for a decade in the proximity of Middlebury, it was not unusual that his path should cross that of Davisson.
It was while skiing for Middlebury College that Davisson crashed into a lift tower and sustained the spinal cord injury that left her wheelchair dependent. At one point, both Davisson and Wolff appeared on a panel during homecoming week to discuss the topic of sport for social good.
Athletes with a social conscience are not a novelty. “We should go out of our way to highlight some of the good that is done,” Wolff said. Athletes doing good things “don’t get the press of misbehavior.”
In 1987 Sports Illustrated surprised readers by presenting as their “Sportsman of the Year” a list of eight male and female “Athletes Who Care.” Twenty-five years later Wolff was given the same assignment and named “Athletes Who Care, The Power of Ten” in SI’s 2012 Dec. 10 issue.
“The field of vision has expanded,” Wolff said. Whereas the earlier group of recognized athletes extended their generosity to children around the world, contemporary athletes address a spectrum of “worldly and sophisticated needs including climate change, disability rights and gay and lesbian issues.”
Davisson is included as one of the 10. When interviewed by Wolff she spoke to caring. “I had to do something,” she said. “People I really cared about are still out there skiing and this could happen to them.”
From this desire evolved the Kelly Brush Foundation, a growing and viable family effort resulting in effective success and outreach. (See www.kellybrushfoundation.org for more information.)
“The two main missions of the Kelly Brush Foundation are getting athletes with spinal cord injuries back into their sport with adaptive equipment and to improve ski racing safety,” said Betsy Cabrera, the foundation’s executive director.
Public awareness is both a reason for and a result of the work of the foundation.
“Safety grants are all matching,” Cabrera said. “They get the discussion going and give the recipients ownership by raising the matching funds.” Over the years applications from ski clubs and organizations for posters, banners, course netting, education and other safety tools has declined as more and more lasting improvements have been made and awareness has been raised.
“Today there are more applications than ever by individuals,” Cabrera said. “Word is spreading and injured athletes anticipate possibilities.”
Over $125,000 in grants has been awarded in the form of adaptive equipment for individuals (handcycles, monoskis, a horse carriage and a bowling chair for a quadriplegic) and ski racing safety for groups. The mission continues to expand as the foundation identifies more requests from quadriplegics and from those newly paralyzed or new to sports who might need to approach their sport cautiously at first.
“Data from Spaulding (Rehabilition Hospital) in Boston provides research from a study on physical and psychological benefits from exercise and outdoor sports,” Cabrera said. “We have known anecdotally that it’s good, but now research proves it.”
Each September, on the Saturday following Labor Day, the Kelly Brush Century Ride has been held rain, shine or hurricane-force winds, since the first modest ride in 2006, made up mostly of Middlebury ski team members. Athletes of all kinds form a close-knit community. Because news travels fast, because athletes support each other, because the Kelly Brush Century is a truly beautiful ride, because it is well-organized and the food and fun are exceptional, because cyclists from all over come to Middlebury to participate in this fund raising event year after year, and because Kelly Brush is loved, the ride has grown to be the biggest charity bike ride in Vermont.
Each year there are more handcyclists joining the ranks as a steady stream of riders heads out of downtown Middlebury to enjoy rolling hills and scenery that includes Lake Champlain, quaint rural villages and residential Shelburne before returning to the college past grazing cows and the Morgan Horse Farm.
Perhaps, however, the century ride is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. “As we get more recognition for the bike ride,” Davisson said, “we consider limitless opportunities. It is growing every year. Maybe we will expand to be a whole event like a triathlon. People come back. They come back for the connection and because it’s a great ride.”
What is the big picture? “I can’t picture what will happen in 10 years. For me what is most rewarding is giving away adaptive equipment. I see how much different it makes in people’s lives,” Davisson said. “When I started, similar to now, there was not a vision for 10 years. I had no idea how big we could get. I still don’t know. We’re doing good things with our mission. I’ll take that.”
In Kelly Brush Davisson’s definition of the word “able” there is no distinction between able-bodied and able-to-do. Davisson speaks modestly, shyly, of the Sports Illustrated designation as one of 10 who care. “I was very happy to be included,” she said. “I don’t think that I match up to them. It’s very humbling. It’s one of those things that I always feel like, oh gosh, I almost feel undeserving. I guess it’s just natural instinct to feel that way.”
Clearly others see it differently. There was a time when disability was the end of the line. With role models like Davisson leading the way, challenged individuals as well as their able-bodied friends are motivated to reach just a little beyond their perceived limitations, and then to reach again and again.
Alex Wolff said it best: “Her attitude can be summed up in two words, ‘Why not?’”