Kelly Brush Says: Get Out There and Play…On Us!

By Jolene Montgomery

Remember Playdates?

When we were kids, we had friends to play with. Whatever we liked to play—hide and seek, Hot Wheels, Barbies, there were other kids who wanted to play the same thing. As we got to be grown-ups we found other games to play—paintball, biking, baseball, golf. Then we got paralyzed, and all that disappeared… for a while.

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The Active Project Connects Disabled People with Adaptive Sports

Whether you have lived with a disability for decades or are just recently adjusting to life with a wheelchair, it can be incredibly difficult to find ways to get active, and people to get active with. Bruce Downes gets it. He helps to connect people with the recreational side of life post-injury. He understands the journey.

"Our goal with this platform is to create a place for everyone to find everything they need to get active, regardless of experience level." That platform is The Active Project, a new program from the Kelly Brush Foundation that provides resources for people with all disabilities to learn about adaptive sports, find organizations and resources and connect with peers across the country.

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For experienced folks, that's as simple as signing up and seeing who and what is out there, but for people who may not have even gotten out of the hospital yet, it might take a bit more hands-on work. "We are creating a team of ambassadors to go meet them in-person. They can be the ones to say 'I know how overwhelming this might be right now, but I promise you'll figure it out. This platform will help. In the meantime, sign up, and you'll just receive some little tidbits over time, and when you're ready, there are thousands of other people waiting for you, ready to support your journey.'"

In the SCI community, the KBF is known primarily for their funding of equipment to help people living with SCI 'Get Out There!'

The real Kelly Brush came from championship downhill skiers; mom, dad and older sister. Even as a child she attacked the hills. As a teen she earned a place on the acclaimed Middlebury Ski Team and by 2006 she was racing to an impressive finish.

You know where this is going—in a race her ski caught in the ice and she crashed into a tower, ending up with a spinal cord injury at T 7-8.

Today Kelly is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and an accomplished mono skier with two children and a happy life. And in 2006 She and her family founded the Kelly Brush Foundation to "Inspire and empower people with spinal cord injuries to lead active and engaged lives."

Online Platform Provides Nationwide Resources for Disability Community

As I talked with KBF Marketing & Digital Programs Director, Bruce Downes, he opened my eyes to the world that KBF covers.

"If we can get to someone within the first year after their injury, it makes such a huge difference. If you are fortunate enough to go to a big rehab, you will most likely get the resources you need to adjust to life after injury."

But if you are in a small town without a big rehab hospital?

"Then, it's likely you will only receive the basics of how to live, not how to thrive. And you'll be lucky if you see any real introduction to recreation. We want to level the playing field, and take luck out of the equation."

The KBF Active Project exists to connect people playing sports with others doing the same. By looking at a unique map of the United States, it is easy to connect with other groups and individuals playing your sport. Not only that, but you can learn the ins and outs of any wheelchair sport with videos on the Active Project platform!

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As Bruce takes me on a tour of the website, I see icons pop up all over New England for downhill skiing, a big attraction in that area. In my area of Southern California? Not so much in the skiing department, but I check out my zip code and hit the jackpot. In my area I find Biking, Tennis, Hiking, Fishing, Hunting, Canoeing/Kayaking, Sailing, Lacrosse, archery, and water skiing, just for starters. Also, locally I find a non-profit called Wheels to Water, offering adaptive kayaking. Who knew? As a long-time wheelchair user, I am surprised I haven't heard of this excellent program. How can we get the word out? Bruce is passionate:

"Join the platform and share it with your friends and anyone in your network! It can help you find a new community, get more people to attend your clubs and organizations, or just have a place to talk about all things adaptive sports. Or, for people who love giving back, you can share your experience with someone who is just starting out. You'll be able to reach out to newcomers when they join, welcome them into the fold. Or share your opinions on equipment and playing styles on the forums."

Bruce pauses, remembering when he has seen it in action.

"It is an amazing thing to get to be a gearhead again and share your knowledge about stuff that has changed your life. If you can shorten someone else's journey, how great is that? Instead of yet another person in the hospital, trying to figure out this extreme change in their life, you can help someone get the answers—maybe even before they leave the hospital."

Kelly Brush Foundation Offers Grant Programs to People with SCI

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The KBF Active Project is open to anyone with a physical disability, and also invites people from adaptive sports organizations or the PT, OT, and recreational therapy communities to join. Their other programs, however, like their grant programs, are open to people with SCI. Bruce explains why.

"In order to use the donated funds and not run out, we only cover traumatic SCI as a result of an incident. We specifically cannot support hereditary or congenital disabilities.  We don't want to close anyone out, but one year we opened it up to all disabilities and we faced too many broken hearts, too many people we couldn't help, when the money ran out."

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However, Bruce takes me to another page on the website where there are resources for many different non-profits that help other specific disabilities.

"We are going to find solutions for you! We don't want to leave anyone out." Bruce assures me. "I want this to be the big sandbox." He grins, excited. "This can be the great unifier."

You can find out more about the Active Project by signing up today at and in their booth #736 at the Abilities Expo in New Jersey, May 5-7, 2023, or find them at Abilities Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale or Dallas.

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