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Water-Skiing for Dollars

Mary Kocy raises money for veterans' brain injury study

Mary Kocy waterskii around Manhattan to raise money for Rusk facility

Mary Kocy water-skied Manhattan's Hudson River to raise money for the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. — Photo by Angel Franco/The New York Times/Redux

At 54, Mary Kocy set out to do something new. She learned to water-ski — not just for fun but for a good cause.

A year later, Kocy recently whizzed around Manhattan under the watchful eyes of fans who had pledged to donate dollars toward helping veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

See also: Veteran caregivers wait for benefits.

"I have a little over 250 thank-you notes to write, and the number keeps growing," Kocy says. "We're still discovering donors who are new to us, and this is extremely gratifying."

The more than $27,000 raised so far will go toward a veterans' pilot study at NYU Langone Medical Center's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine.

"In Iraq and Afghanistan, our servicemen and women are being exposed to improvised explosive devices," sustaining neurological and psychological impairments, says Steven Flanagan, M.D., chairman of the institute, which is overseeing the research.

Veterans in the study will undergo MRI scans in an attempt to distinguish between traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder — both of which cause similar symptoms. This may lead to additional research and eventually new treatments that would harness the brain's natural ability to heal, Flanagan says, rather than just managing the symptoms.

If enough funding is secured, a second study will address veterans' vocational needs, helping them transition more smoothly into civilian jobs, Kocy says.

Training time

Now 55, Kocy is CEO of Rusk Renovations, which remodels Manhattan residences and employs about 40 workers. Her husband, John Rusk (no relation to the rehab institute), 49, founded the company 25 years ago and serves as president.

When Kocy envisioned the water-skiing endeavor as a fundraiser, her husband teamed up with her to help her practice, piloting a 60-horsepower boat. Channeling her nervous energy into good use, Kocy water-skied two or three times a week on the Hudson River in the summer.

Next: Building momentum. >>

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