Position: Vice President of Programming
Kelly worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and helped start the Travis Mills Foundation, and she’s a doctor of physical therapy!
What did you do before TMF?
I was working as a Physical Therapist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the amputee clinic.
How long have you been with TMF and how did you come to work here?
I started as a contractor working remotely for TMF in October 2016 but full-time in June 2017, just before the retreat opened. Many years before, I got involved in PT because I met an amputee skier as a kid who talked about PT’s impact on his life. I knew from that moment, long before the Global War on Terror started, that working with amputees would be so much fun. As a military kid, I could do all of my full-time clinical internships in military facilities: Officer Candidate School at Quantico Marine Base, Landstuhl Hospital in Germany and Walter Reed in Washington DC. I fell in love with the impact that I could have during the recovery of these servicemembers and stayed on at Walter Reed full-time when I graduated. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more rewarding job if I tried. I was getting to meet patients at what was arguably their lowest point, and walk step-by-step with them into their new normal and help them get their lives back. I was young and didn’t have a family or other commitments so part of my time there was spent in adapted sports trips, taking patients outside of the clinic. One such trip was to Breckenridge, CO, where I worked on Kelsey’s ski skills while Travis learned to snowboard. Travis knew my love for PT outside of the clinic. As the climate of the war changed, and the patients weren’t coming in by the plane loads anymore (a good thing!), I started looking for what to do next. I knew full-time clinic work anywhere else would never be the same, but also wanted to keep my hand in the adaptive sports world. TMF was the perfect fit for both. I get to do all the fun parts of PT without all the insurance and paperwork parts.
Why did you believe in this mission so much that you left your career as a PT to start the Foundation?
I believe that the best parts of PT happen outside the walls of a clinic, which is what TMF allows me to do. I believe in showing people what they still CAN do in their everyday lives. The mission at TMF lets me combine family, support, adventure, and adaptive sports all together. After treating patients within hours of being injured while I was in Germany, to Walter Reed for some time the next few years, this felt like a natural next step.
What’s your favorite part about working here?
My favorite part is getting to see veterans and their families realize what they still CAN do, and watching them do it together. Recovery is a lifelong process, and it really does take a village. It’s fun to bring the whole village here and get to see them thrive together.
Do you have a favorite story you’d like to share?
My favorite story was watching a participant tame and then ride a mule. I’ve known this guy for over 10 years and never knew he used to break horses for a living before he decided to do something safer with his life and join the Marines. We took him to the horse barn where we hold programming and there was a mule who was VERY leary of his wheelchair. The participant said, “Just let me get close to him, it’ll be fine, I can handle it.” I think everyone else was expecting me to say no, but knowing the participant, I knew he could do it. Within minutes, that apprehensive animal was about falling asleep with his head in the hand of the participant. Where there’s a will, there’s a way – so we hoisted the participant (missing both legs above the knees) up onto that mule and off they went for a ride. You’d have never known those two hadn’t known each other for years. But to see the pride on the participant’s face and the tears out of his wife’s eyes (and everyone else for that matter) is what it’s all about. It’s about watching them learn to believe in themselves again, and that quite literally, anything is possible.
What is your favorite feature/part of the Retreat/TMF?
Historically, my favorite feature has been the ropes course. It can be humbling to put people up in the air and watch them learn to trust us, the equipment and themselves. But now that we have the Health & Wellness Center, that’s my favorite. it allows participants access to everyday pieces of equipment and we get to teach them how to use it in an adaptive way. The carryover effect of that changes people’s lives. It helps them see a healthier future that they can access from home. I’m excited for all our plans with that space in the future!