Connecting with other people and organizations in the adaptive sports and accessibility space is a huge focus of Access Trax. We are honored to share with you more about the Kelly Brush Foundation and it’s Program Director, Greg Durso. But first, we’ll share the Kelly Brush Story and how the Foundation got started.
The Kelly Brush Story
The Kelly Brush Foundation (KBF) was founded after collegiate alpine skier Kelly was injured in 2006 at an NCAA ski race. Growing up, Kelly was always an athletic person, participating in alpine skiing, gymnastics, soccer, basketball and more in her home town of Charlotte, Vermont. In college, she made the Middlebury Ski Team her Freshman year. After her ski race accident in 2006 which resulted in a spinal cord injury at the T7-8 level, Kelly recovered at Craig Rehabilitation Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Her tenacious spirit from before her accident persisted, and she was ready to navigate whatever new challenges life would bring.
In the Spring of 2008, Kelly graduated on-time from Middlebury. She had remained an active member of the ski team after learning to monoski (adaptive skiing) and was awarded the NCAA Inspiration Award in January of 2009. Today, Kelly is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, an athlete, wife, and mother.
The Kelly Brush Foundation
The KBF was founded by Kelly and her family after her ski accident in order to “inspire and empower people with spinal cord injuries to lead active and engaged lives.” The Foundation emphasizes that “an active lifestyle fuels a healthy body and mind, allowing us to be the most full version of ourselves.” Those who suffer a spinal cord injury often face barriers to activity, especially sports. The Kelly Brush Foundation provides the inspiration and grants (called the Active Fund) to enable anyone to acquire the adaptive equipment necessary to be active outdoors. The grant applications are available on their website and grant cycles occur in the Spring and Fall each year. If you are inspired to donate to help athletes receive grants, you can do so here. Greg Durso is the current Program Director of the KBF and leads the team on processing the awards. We caught up with Greg recently and want to share his story and advice with you!
Meet Greg Durso: Adaptive Athlete & KBF Program Director
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Greg.
I grew up on Long Island in New York, went to college at Penn State and then started a banking career back on Long Island. I grew up playing soccer, skiing, boating and wakeboarding. Always get teased about it but I was the captain of the Penn State Wakeboard team for two years, we were absolutely terrible but it was fun. Then after college when I was 23, a little less than a year into my new job at Empire National Bank I suffered a spinal cord injury on New Years of 2009 in a freak sledding accident at Okemo MT in VT. I became a T-4 paraplegic but I decided to just be myself and have fun instead of feeling sorry for myself and the rest is history. So now I’m still an avid skier, Ironman finisher, wakeboarder and Mountainbiker.
How did you first get involved with the Kelly Brush Foundation?
Right after my injury my Aunt actually came across the KBF doing an internet search. She told me the foundation helps people who have suffered a spinal cord injury get active by providing grants for adaptive sports equipment. She also told me they were holding their 3rd annual Kelly Brush Ride Fundraiser that September. I was able to buy a beginner handcycle at an Abilities Expo in NY in April right after I got out of the hospital and biking 20 miles with Kelly at the ride was my first ever goal post injury. I accomplished it and never looked back. They helped me get a grant for a monoski (my favorite sport) and then an even better handcycle so I could do the Ironman. I have always gone back and done the ride every year and helped them out when I could. Then at the ride in 2018 I looked around and said this is what I want to be doing with my life? So one year ago I moved to VT to become the Program Director at KBF. I know how important all those moments, opportunities and experiences I had gotten because of the equipment, how it transcended the sport and helped me thrive after my injury and I wanted to give back and give others those same opportunities and experiences I’ve had. I know how truly life changing it is. So now I’m in charge of the grant process and outreach with our grant recipients as well as attending events spreading the KBF word.
What has been your favorite adaptive sport moment in your life?
I think it would definitely be finishing Ironman Maryland 6 weeks after I just missed out on Ironman Lake Placid. I worked so hard and the joy was in the journey.
What is your most used and loved piece of sports equipment?
My most used piece of equipment is my handcycle, logged a lot of miles on that thing but right now after getting my Hammerhead Off Road handcycle by Jake O’Connor from Reactive Adaptations last summer that is number 1 on the list with my monoski as #2.
Who do you most look up to?
I have definitely had a few people in my life since my injury in the wheelchair community help me along the way. Tom Kenny was there right when I got hurt in the hospital, Peter Hawkins pushing me in wheelchair racing, George Gallego helping me get into triathlons and Geoff Krill as a new adventure buddy in skiing, road and mountain biking. And, of course, Kelly for starting what she did!
Why is it important for everyone to stay active?
Oh man, to me being active is so important and part of my identity, but even more important being in a wheelchair. It helps you thrive post injury, introduces you to a new community of people, gets you out of the house, helps in getting back to work. It has so many facets that helps you physically, socially and mentally and sets you up for success. It also translates to everyone else in life too, so you can connect with others on so many different levels.
Thank you, Greg for sharing your story and advice!
To learn more, check out the KBF website here.