A retreat center expected to open in the Belgrade Lakes region in summer 2017 will be unlike the countless other Maine lodges and camps that have provided recreation and respite for thousands of vacationers.
At this haven, injured veterans and their families from around the country will rejuvenate and relax – at no cost to them.
"We want to restore the independence of these individuals and bring their families out," said Manchester resident Travis Mills, 29, president and founder of the Travis Mills Foundation (travismills.org), which is launching Maine Chance Veterans Family Retreat. "We don't want to pity them. I tell people all the time, 'Don't pity me. I just had a bad day at work.' "
That was in April 2012, when the former Army staff sergeant and paratrooper was injured by an improvised explosive device and lost parts of all his limbs on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The Michigan native is one of a handful of quadruple amputees from the U.S. military in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. He served from 2006 to 2013, earning a Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and Combat Infantry Badge.
Two years ago, Mills and his wife, Kelsey, moved to Maine with their daughter, Chloe, now 5. Kelsey, a Maine native, has family here and being near them was essential to their "recalibrated" life. The couple's handsome handicapped-accessible home, a gift from foundations that support veterans, is equipped with "smart home" technology that helps Mills live independently.
SERVED 2006-13 in the U.S. Army; achieved the rank of sergeant.
BASED in Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, N.C.; Khost, Herat, Bala Murghab and Maywand, Afghanistan.
RECEIVED the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantry Badge.
Such technology will also be a feature of the former Elizabeth Arden getaway and spa, which the Travis Mills Foundation bought last year to house the center. A $2.7 million renovation project is transforming the 17-acre property in Rome and Mount Vernon, which includes frontage on Long Pond, the 1920s main building and several smaller structures. Cosmetics magnate Arden, whose mid-20th century spa had a celebrity clientele, would surely approve of plans to offer facials, yoga and massages in addition to activities like swimming, boating, fishing and adaptive sports.
After Mills' success participating in adaptive sports during his recovery, organizations in Maine brought some of his fellow disabled vets here for camp sessions. That led to the creation of the Travis Mills Foundation, which has raised about $2 million in donations to date.
Mills now travels throughout Maine promoting and raising funds for the organization, accompanied by his father-in-law, Craig Buck, who left a job to help with his son-in-law's months-long recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
They also travel the country for Mills' business, giving motivational talks to companies and organizations. The veteran, who's often been interviewed by national media, also tells his story in "Tough as They Come," co-authored with Marcus Brotherton and just out in paperback. Mills and his fellow soldiers also re-enacted scenes for the award-winning 2013 documentary, "Travis: A Soldier's Story."
Foundation Executive Director Lynn Harvey met Mills when she was executive assistant to Maine first lady Ann LePage and Blaine House director. "Not everyone is as comfortable in their own skin as Travis," she said in an email. "He's funny and easily approachable … living life to the fullest and trying to help others who may be struggling."