INSIDE THE DEN: Mary Seaton Brush ‘75

Each month leading up to BMA’s 50th anniversary celebration on June 12-14, 2020, we present to you a fellow academy alumnus. Join us as we look “Inside the Den”, learn about how the academy has evolved over time and gain new insight on how the school shaped these Burkie Bears’ lives in ski racing and in life.

Since its inception in 1970, the academy has been home to 1,178 students including 36 who have gone on to compete in the Olympics and 145 who have been members of national teams representing the USA, Australia, Canada, Chile, Estonia, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea, and Spain. Above and beyond the athletic success of its alumni, BMA has always embraced a progressive educational model that focuses on engendering creativity, curiosity, and problem-solving in all of its graduates. To learn more about BMA’s celebratory reunion, CLICK HERE.

This month, we present you to Mary Seaton Brush. Mary was a PG student in 1975. She now lives in Charlotte, VT. In 1976, she competed in the Innsbruck Winter Olympics along with fellow Burkies Cary Adgate and Geoff Bruce,  making them BMA’s first Olympians.

Why did you choose to attend BMA?

I was a senior in high school when I first heard of BMA from an article in Sports Illustrated. I loved the idea but I was playing basketball and track & field as well as ski racing so I didn’t consider it at all. That winter after getting dominated at the Jr Nationals at Copper Mountain by the girls from the Eastern team, I signed up for a summer camp in Italy called the Eastern Camp. I wanted to learn from these girls. Among the coaches at the camp were Marty Heib and George Rau. When I returned home from that camp, I got a phone call from Warren Witherell himself inviting me to come to Burke Mountain Academy for a PG year. I was ecstatic to hear that they had such a thing. Finally, I’d get some real coaching on a day to day basis, which was all I ever wanted as a ski racer. 

What are some of your favorite memories from your time at BMA? 

The house meetings with Warren were a favorite. We all gathered in the living room in the Frazier House on the carpet-covered benches. Sometimes it was a discipline issue with a lecture on moral values but more often Warren just wanted to rally the troops to keep the ship on the right heading. He had a gift for speaking about our mission at Burke as it would carry us through our lives and his passion was evident. He wanted all of us to succeed and thrive and he inspired us in those house meetings.  

I also liked jumping on the original trampoline (rectangular). When I saw a trampoline in the field behind the Frazier House upon my arrival at Burke, I was in heaven. I spent hours on it – learning front and backflips, playing add-on games, and having seat-drop wars.

I have fond memories of riding the Poma, trying to get air when the lift guy pulled the trigger. Timing was everything! Also, trying to avoid getting whiplashed by not paying attention when he pulled the trigger.  

On snow, I remember trying to get ahead of the boys when training slalom!! They knocked so many gates out!

I remember lunches with our favorite cook Tommy: fresh breads and soups and brownies. Yum!

Lastly, riding to races in a full-sized school bus. Our ski bags were laid across the back seats and often a few of us would sleep on them. Marty sometimes drove fast over frost heaves to see how much air we could get in the back.                

What was your favorite workout at BMA?

My favorite workout at Burke was definitely hiking the training hill before breakfast. It was fun because you could start at any time and you could do it with your buds. It was social on the road up from school but inevitably it became more competitive once we hit the training hill and the race to the top and then the sprint down to school was on. It was fun, tough, a great workout, and you were rewarded with breakfast at the end. If the weather was good the views were spectacular just to add to the whole experience. What could be better?!

What has changed the most since your Burke days?

What has changed the most since my time at Burke is the campus. When I arrived, the log Wood’s House was the new building. We needed sleeping bags to stay warm but it was all part of the adventure for me. There was the Frazier House, the Woods House, the Moulton House, plus the little gym. 

What did you do after your PG year? 

I made the US Ski Team at the end of my PG year at Burke and continued to use BMA as a training base for the next few years. The school put in some transient rooms so we could stay for a few days here and there. We called them the motel rooms. Many of us US Ski Teamers utilized those rooms a lot in the mid to late 70’s. 

I went to UVM after 4 years on the US team. I graduated from UVM in 1984 with a BS in Physical Education and a minor in English. I raced for UVM 1 year and then raced on the Women’s Pro Tour for 3. I married Charlie Brush, who once coached the Middlebury ski team. We had 2 daughters who ski raced and they both ended up racing for Middlebury College. I worked in the travel business at Child Travel Services in Burlington until 2004. Since 2006 I’ve helped in various capacities at the Kelly Brush Foundation.

I came from Michigan to Burke and have stayed in Vermont ever since.

Your family’s life took a turn when your daughter had a tragic ski accident. Can you tell us more about how Kelly is doing and how you have all grown from that traumatic experience?

My daughter Kelly became a paraplegic in the GS at the Williams Carnival in 2006. I filmed her run and watched her fall from several gates above her though I didn’t see the impact with the lift tower thankfully. I rode to the hospital in the ambulance and prayed for days and weeks that she would begin to feel something, anything, below her chest. It was a crushing blow to our family and to the entire ski community. The impact on me is that I see danger where I once saw challenge and excitement. I sometimes dwell on the things Kelly will never do again but I think as her mother that is only natural. 

Kelly herself is doing great and is living a full and happy life and doesn’t seem to dwell on these things. The good news is that her accident shed light on the real need for better protections around training and racecourses for all ski racers. Shaped skis increased speeds and unpredictable falls – there is no such thing as a fall zone as once described. I believe we have made every ski racer in this country safer as a result of Kelly’s accident and the outreach of the Kelly Brush Foundation that started afterward. Our whole family is very proud of Kelly and the difference she has made.

What lessons do you hold from your time at Burke?

I learned so many valuable life skills at Burke: self-reliance, time management, resilience among others, but one of the biggest was learning to work with others towards a common goal. We all strived to become the best we could be in this crazy sport of ski racing, where there are few winners and many struggles. Working together through the highs and the lows, we were and are all winners at the end of the day. 

What projects and passions keep you busy now?

I continue to pursue my passion for skiing, which will never die. I ski at Vail and Stowe mostly, with an occasional cat skiing trip or to the Alps, but my biggest passion has become golf. The elusive perfect carved turn has now become the search for the equally elusive perfect golf swing. I love the challenge and continue to work on and improve my game. Once an athlete always an athlete…  But I now have 2 grandsons by my daughter Lindsay and husband Tom Getz, and 2 granddaughters by my daughter Kelly and husband Zeke Davisson, who bring me endless joy and are quickly becoming the next gen of ski racers in the family. Personally, I’m pushing the golf, but that’s another story. 

Will we see you at the 50th anniversary?

I do plan to attend the 50th Reunion at BMA! Burke was a special place and a turning point in my life. I’ll always be grateful to Warren for believing in me. Burke was a perfect fit for me – I was a quiet kid from the Midwest with a tremendous amount of talent (did I say that?) and a ferocious appetite for anything that would help me become a better ski racer. When I got to Burke I was all in. Game on. We worked well together – Marty, George, Warren, Chris Jones, and also Finn – and 15 months later I was named to the 1976 US Olympic Team. Drop the mic.