Travis Mills gives back with retreat for wounded veterans

David Custer sits with Travis Mills at his Maine retreat. (Source: WNEM)

Majestically rising out of the Maine countryside is a cutting edge promise beating new life into the heart of a once storied home.

The home builds the foundation of a chapter constructed out of the unpredictable price of freedom. A price Staff Sgt. Travis Mills paid on the front lines of the War on Terror.

"I'm just trying to do good and give back and this is how I am gonna do that,” Mills said.

The Vassar native has fought back after nearly losing his life five years ago when he stepped on an explosive in Afghanistan. It was just days before his 25th birthday.

He woke up in a hospital bed. Four of his limbs had been amputated and his life was forever changed.

In that moment, all he could think to do was tell his wife to leave him.

“I told her she should just take our daughter, Chloe, and go and she should take whatever money we had in the account, the house, the cars and I was fine with that,” Mills said.

She remained by his side, though, leading him to a new place to call home in her home state of Maine.

Together, they built a state of the art “Smart Home" funded by several charitable organizations. It was there Mills learned to adapt to his new physical challenges, continuing to prove nothing can stand in his way.

"I can kayak. I can snowboard. I go downhill mountain biking. I was just asked to go sky diving, which is actually just gravity. It's not that hard. You just gotta’ fall,” Mills said.

It hasn't always been that easy though.

Mills found the light to come through his darkest days by unearthing a desire to help others find that very same light of hope.

"Don't live life on the sidelines because of what happened to you, get out there and do things, and we are gonna show them that they can do things,” Mills said.

Those things will happen at a place Mills calls his dream.

He transformed a rundown celebrity estate – the once popular spa and retreat of Elizabeth Arden. It was a place for the rich and famous.

“When we were looking for a place to hold our retreat for our veteran families, then what better place than here,” Mills said.

Soon, the land will welcome people once again for canoeing, kayaking and swimming.

However, they likely won't be rich or famous. They'll be American families learning to adjust to life with a wounded war hero, like Mills.

"My recovery, it wasn't just me. It wasn't just me and my wife. It was me, my wife and my daughter,” Mills said.

His vision is to inspire injured veterans and their loved ones to live again by allowing 10 families at a time to adapt to their new normal with the help of therapists and volunteers.

"This room is kind of like media center room. You come and hang out on a rainy day. There will be tables and chairs for like board games,” Mills said. “Letting children see there are other people like their mom or their dad. It's just important to help build that kind of confidence in everybody, ‘cause we want to make sure we instill the ‘never give up, never quit’ mentality, which is what I live by."

The multi-million dollar renovation was funded by people from near and far who were inspired by Mills’ incredible story of determination and donated to his foundation.

Every little detail of the retreat was designed by Mills himself.

"I made sure that these were able to come down - ability to turn on where you sit and the shower will be right on you where you sit,” Mills said.

Every part of the retreat tells a story, like the staircase. It was milled by Veteran Colonel Bill Benson, who is a local in Maine.

Mills said he never thought this would be his life’s purpose.

“No. No. I was gonna be in the Army for 20 years, get out, high school teacher, football coach like my main man Mr. Dukes - history teacher and defensive coordinator - but it just didn't go that way for me,” Mills said.

It may be a different path than he was expecting, but it's one he's embraced like few could.

As he prepares to walk through the doors of the completed Travis Mills Foundation retreat in June, he knows the steps are just the beginning.

"If this is my life's purpose, then this is what it is. I don't question it; I just go along with it,” Mills said. “I accept my role as a mentor and a role model and I am always gonna put my best foot forward. And maybe it's not even one of these on my leg - ‘cause I have like 13 feet – whatever one that day is gonna be the best one for whatever I am gonna do.”

Elizabeth Arden built the retreat in the 1920s and it fell into disrepair decades later. Mills said he wasn’t the highest bidder on the property, but when the owner heard his story and what he was trying to achieve, he sold it to him. The property spans two different towns in Maine: Rome and Mount Vernon.

Nearly $2 million has been raised for the purchase and renovation of the retreat.

It will officially open on June 25 and will host its first guests on the week of the Fourth of July.

If you would like to purchase items needed for the retreat you can view the Amazon wish list:

If you’d like to donate to the Travis Mills Foundation, click here.

>>>Slideshow: Travis Mills retreat in Maine<<<

Copyright 2017 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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