Meet Sync's Partners: The Kelly Brush Foundation

Kelly Brush was born to be an elite athlete. From an early age, she showed exceptional drive playing soccer and softball in the warmer months and participating in gymnastics, swimming, and alpine ski racing in the snowy Vermont winters. As the daughter of two accomplished alpine racers, it was no surprise that Kelly fell in love with the sport. She put on her first skis at 2½ and competed for the first time at age 7. Then, in her junior and senior years of high school, she qualified for the U.S. National Championships.

While a sophomore at Middlebury College, she went on to place eighth at the 2006 Dartmouth College Carnival Giant Slalom as a member of the college’s NCAA ski team. Kelly’s career as an elite alpine racer was on its way—and then everything changed.

The following weekend, while competing at the Williams College Winter Carnival at Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts, Kelly caught an edge on an icy patch of the course and was thrown off the trail,  slamming her back into an unprotected lift tower. Kelly had severe injuries: four fractured ribs, a fractured vertebra in her neck, a collapsed lung, and a spinal cord injury at the T 7-8 level.

After 10 hours of emergency surgery at Berkshire Medical Center to realign and stabilize her spine, her condition had improved—but her injuries would leave her using a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Instead of finishing up the carnival circuit the next weekend at Middlebury College, she was in the hospital recovering for two weeks. After being released, Kelly spent the next two and a half months going through strenuous rehabilitation in Denver—learning how to tackle life’s new trials with the same resolute passion she always had.

Changing the Game

The reason the name Kelly Brush has gained recognition isn’t because of one tragic day—it’s because of what she did afterward and what she continues to do for Alpine racers and other spinal cord injury survivors. After the accident, Kelly was determined to find a way to remain active and enjoy the sense of independence and connection that comes with ski racing.

Upon her return to Middlebury College six months after her injury, she immediately learned how to ski in a monoski and managed to graduate on schedule—despite missing a semester of school. Her overwhelming drive and courage earned her a standing ovation at her graduation and an NCAA Inspiration Award the following year.

About the Kelly Brush Foundation

Kelly and her family started the Kelly Brush Foundation (KBF) to prevent injuries like hers from happening to others—and to empower and enable other spinal cord injury survivors to remain physically active. The foundation does this by providing a combination of equipment grants, advocacy, and education.

Two of KBF’s programs, the Active Fund and Path2Active Partnerships for Independence, focus on helping survivors of spinal cord injuries tackle the financial and physical obstacles preventing them from being active. The third KBF program is geared toward improving ski racing safety for all alpine racers—and eliminating preventable accidents that are the result of inadequate equipment, education, or resources. Here are some more details about these vital programs:

  • Active Fund: This program offers grants to help individuals paralyzed by spinal cord injuries purchase adaptive sports equipment, which might otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

  • Path2Active: Working together, KBF, rehabilitation centers, and adaptive sports programs across the country offer equipment grants and educational support.

  • Ski Racing Safety: As part of this initiative, KBF provides safety equipment grants to alpine ski clubs for essential equipment such as stanchion padding (which may have prevented Kelly’s paralysis) and safety netting.

As part of the effort to achieve better ski racing safety, KBF also works with the local University of Vermont Medical Center and Jonathan Davis—another Vermont skier who suffered a ski racing injury and nearly bled to death on the slopes—and his family in order to supply ski coaches with lifesaving bleeding control kits as part of the national awareness campaign Stop the Bleed.

To improve industry safety education, KBF has also worked with U.S. Ski & Snowboard to create a much-needed national alpine competition and safety consultant. Paul Van Slyke of Lake Placid, who has more than 30 years experience in alpine sports, was named the first alpine competition and safety consultant, and he’ll serve as a resource for guidance and best practices for ski clubs to improve athlete safety.

Independently, KBF advocates for ski racing safety at national events, including The Killington Cup, and the organization distributes “Ski Racing Safety is No Accident” posters to U.S. Ski & Snowboard clubs every year.

Why We Support KBF

We founded SYNC on the simple idea that the alpine athlete should come first, especially when it comes to the gear and apparel they wear on the slopes. Unlike other companies in our industry, our goal isn’t to convince skiers of what they need or invent reasons to spend more.

Our mission is to listen to the persisting challenges and feedback of mountain athletes and serve as a conduit for creating better performance solutions. Every choice we make—from the materials we use to the actual designs—is made with skiers’ real challenges and goals in mind.

As former alpine ski racers ourselves, our passion for the sport isn’t just part of our brand DNA—it’s a defining aspect of who we are and what led us here. We launched our Elevate the Athlete donation program as a way for our small company to stay true to our roots and support ski teams and organizations like KBF that are working to improve mountain athletics and provide more diverse opportunities to ski racers.

To learn more about KBF or our other inspiring nonprofit partners, click here and let us know where you’d like us to donate whenever you make a purchase.

About the Author

Geof is the head of product and design at SYNC. A former NCAA racer at Boston College, he now focuses on back-country skiing and endurance mountain biking in his free time.