ROME — With everything he’s been through, was Travis Mills actually panicking? Yeah, a little.

“We’re opening in just a few days, and we still had so much to do,” Mills said. “People were freaking out.”

On Sunday, the Maine Chance Lodge and Retreat will host its first group of wounded veterans and their families. Seven families are coming in to enjoy the retreat, Mills said, and there was still so much work to be done.

When Mills was a high school football player in Michigan, community service was a key component of being a member of the team. Perhaps the same was the case here in central Maine, Mills thought. He made a call to Jason Mills (no relation), his friend in the Augusta Fire Department. This was last Tuesday.

Jason Mills reached out to Cony High School football coach B.L. Lippert, and on Thursday morning, 24 Cony football players and four coaches pulled up to the retreat in a school bus, ready to do whatever Travis Mills asked.

“I don’t think anybody says no to Travis Mills,” Lippert said.

An Army Staff Sargent, Mills lost all four of his limbs to an explosion in Afghanistan. Mills began his foundation to help other wounded soldiers, and the Belgrade Lakes retreat is the next step in his efforts. Through his foundation, Mills raised $2.5 million to purchase the Elizabeth Arden estate and transform it into a retreat for wounded veterans and their families.

The Cony Rams helped move kayaks down to the lake-front. They helped clean out a stable, and load old furniture onto a trailer so it could be taken to Goodwill. They did nothing special. They just lent a hand. To Mills, that was enough.

“They’ve done the most incredible amount of work in a short time,” Mills said on Thursday afternoon. Behind him, the football players were quietly finishing up their work. “This is what we strive for, the community coming together to support these families… How great is it to get it all done in four and a half hours? It would’ve taken us two days.”

To the Cony football team, helping out Mills was no big deal. They were happy to do it.

“It’s a great foundation,” incoming junior Nic Mills (nephew of Jason Mills, again no relation to Travis), said. “There’s definitely a lot of families where this is going to be a great help.”

“This is a great way to give back,” incoming junior Reed Hopkins said.

Nic Mills was one of the players who had previously met Travis Mills. The rest were instantly impressed by their host.

“He’s a very outgoing guy, very humorous,” Hopkins said.

Travis Mills also was very specific in how he wanted things done. Come Sunday, everything had to be perfect for the guests.

“Exactly like a coach,” Hopkins said.

As the work winded down, Travis Mills addressed the team. An experienced and engaging public speaker, Mills asked about their lives. Who has a job? Who has a girlfriend. He talked about his days as a high school football player, and he cracked jokes about his injuries.

“That one is a knee slapper, if you have them,” he said, cracking a grin, showing the players it’s OK to laugh with him.

Most of all, he expressed the sentiment the guests that arrive this weekend will share.

“This is a great help to a lot of families,” Mills said, “so thank you.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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