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Updated: March 20, 2023 / 2023 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders: Travis Mills provides retreat for veterans and their families

Travis Mills Nonprofit Leader of the Year   The 2023 Business Leaders of the Year
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On April 10, 2012, Travis Mills, a staff sergeant in the 82nd Airborne division of the U.S. Army, was critically injured on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, losing portions of all four limbs from an improvised explosive device. He was one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries. During his time at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he found that being active was a key part of his physical and mental recovery.

Fast forward to September 2022, he and his wife Kelsey opened the Travis Mills Foundation Retreat, a 9,800-square-foot, $7 million healing center for post-9/11 veterans and their families. The foundation’s programming provides activities for veterans and their families, combined with tools and skills needed for a healthy recovery. The center includes an indoor pool, massage rooms, fitness rooms and state-of-the-art workout equipment.

Photo / Fred Field
Travis Mills, founder of the Travis Mills foundation, with his daughter Chloe.

Mainebiz: What prompted you to create this center?

Travis Mills: I was in the army; on my third appointment, I got blown up in Afghanistan. My wife and I had been married just under four years when I did get hit. I then had 19 months at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center]. Through that recovery process, I went from literally nothing, no arms or legs and getting help with everything to getting a prosthetic arm, learning how to walk and learning how to do things independently.

My wife and I were shown so much love and support that we wanted to give back and do something, so we started the Travis Mills Foundation. We donated $5,000 ourselves to send packages to the guys I served with who were at their new units in Afghanistan.

I went on these trips at Walter Reed, skiing, mountain biking, snowboarding, horseback riding — a bunch of cool things. We realized that my wife could come on these trips with me. I thought that was great because I was getting better for her and my daughter, who was 6 months old at the time. We said, ‘Let’s bring something like this to Maine.’ It started out as the Travis Mills project, I was just the face, but there was another nonprofit that was taking in funds and it got too big for them to handle and they said let’s just let this fizzle. I had been all over the state and jumped out of planes with the former governor’s wife to raise money for this and so we took the project over.

We didn’t know what we were doing. We bought this place which was the former Elizabeth Arden’s Maine Chance Spa. We renovated it and brought some families out.

MB: How did you fund the retreat?

TM: We got a balloon payment that we had to make $400,000 over four years. That was what the bank could do for us, and they took a chance on us. I do keynote speaking, and I get people to not only pay my fee but to donate and that is how we were able to fund this whole place. Fast forward to now, we have a $13 to $14 million property that is debt free. We raise money so we can do the programs and our operating budget is $4.5 million a year. As a president and founder, I do not take a dime, I have never gotten paid for the work out here and I never will.

MB: You are such an inspiration to many people. Who is someone that inspires you?

TM: You think that it’s going to be someone in my life that I looked up to because they were older or wiser, and they taught me stuff, but no, it’s my daughter. She’s 11. This whole place exists because of my daughter Chloe and now my son Dax. It doesn’t exist because they will be able to use this place and come out. It’s because at my lowest points, at the end of the day, that was my daughter; that was the person I still had to take care of no matter how limited I was in bed and things like that.

When Chloe was 9-10 months, she was holding my hand and bouncing on me, and I had little short legs, learning how to walk again.

MB: What are your recent accomplishments?

TM: In the last year, we went from having very limited people here because of COVID, not knowing if we were going to have a foundation to run anymore. Now we have a full schedule. We’re beefing up our staff with the right people in place to help us grow and be the top in the nation for what we do. We finished the health and wellness center which took a while. It allowed us to open more activities, things for the families to do, and more ways they can be active with their families.

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