A conversation with Ann Cody

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Nov. 18, 2013, 12 p.m. (ET)
Ann Cody
Ann Cody is nominated for International Paralympic Committee vice president. The election is Nov. 24 in Athens.

Ann Cody has been at the forefront of the Paralympic Movement for more than 30 years. A three-time U.S. Paralympian who competed in track and field as well as wheelchair basketball, she has also served on various International Olympic Committee commissions, International Sport Federation executive committee and Games organizing and bid committees.

Cody currently serves on the International Paralympic Committee Governing Board, where she is the highest ranking American. Through her leadership, the IPC established a policy on gender equity and several initiatives aimed at increasing participation by women in Paralympic sport.

She has also been influential in Washington D.C.

“Ann has an outstanding record as an athlete and executive in the corporate and sport sectors,” said Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the United States Olympic Committee. “She is a proven performer and has the necessary depth of experience, courage and integrity to represent the interests of every sector of the Paralympic Movement.”

As BlazeSports America’s current director of policy and global outreach, she has worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the United Nations’ Office on Sport for Development and Peace and U.S. Department of State while overseeing implementation of sport development and diplomacy programs with Paralympic partners in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Europe. She also has contributed to the work of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 30.5 that recognizes sports participation as a human right. 

In September, U.S. Paralympics nominated Cody for the position of IPC vice president. Ahead of the Nov. 24 election at the IPC General Assembly in Athens, USParalympics.org caught up with Cody to discuss her vision for the future.

You’re a former athlete who later became involved in the governance of Paralympic sport. Why was it important for you to remain involved after your career as a U.S. Paralympian?

Whether actively competing or retired from sport, athletes can make enormous contributions to the Paralympic Movement by serving in leadership positions. I was motivated by a desire to see improvements in my sport’s governance and competition calendar.  Volunteer service on sport committees gave me an education in governance, politics and how to work with many different stakeholders. I had some great mentors along the way who encouraged me to get involved.

How does being a Paralympian influence your leadership style?

I come from a team sports background. In high school and college sports, being a leader meant figuring out how to harness the talents of teammates, create a harmonious atmosphere and expect the best from everyone. I approach my career and leadership responsibilities in a similar manor. 

How have you seen the Paralympic Movement grow from your time as an athlete until now?

I joined the Paralympic Movement at an exciting time in our history. Last year in London we saw 4,237 athletes from 164 nations competing in the Paralympic Games – the largest Games to date.

In 1984, the Games were much smaller and split between Stoke Mandeville, England and Long Island, New York. The 1988 Games in Seoul were a turning point for the Movement as we competed in many of the same facilities and venues used for the Olympics. 

Then came the 1992 Games in Barcelona, which were extraordinary and a major milestone.  The 1992 Games were my last as an athlete, however, I understand that the 2000 Games in Sydney set new standards of excellence. Actually every Games, summer and winter, have met new milestones that have been built on.

It has been rewarding to witness the transformation of the Paralympics from a relatively unknown sports event to a major international sports movement. It is a privilege to have been a small part in it.

NBC Olympics recently announced that it would provide an unprecedented 116 combined hours of television coverage in the United States for the Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. How important is that announcement for the Paralympic Movement?

Increased coverage of the Paralympic Games in the U.S. market is really important.  It will raise our visibility and further strengthen the Paralympic brand, all of which will create more sports opportunities for youth with disabilities. Other countries with regular broadcast coverage of the Games have seen increases in revenue and other positive investments in Paralympic sport. Hopefully, we will see similar efforts in the United States.

The U.S. broadcast announcement is an important step for the Movement. But where do you think the Paralympic Movement needs to expand in future years?

We need to leverage the international platform we have with the Games to support and strengthen our developing National Paralympic Committees and their athletes, help create more competition opportunities, and increase visibility and access for our existing sports. In London, we had the most female athletes ever at a Paralympic Games, and a record number of countries did not send any female athletes to the Games.  This is an obvious area for growth and it will continue to be a focus for the IPC and for me, personally.   

You have been involved with the International Olympic Committee on several Commissions. How important is the relationship between the IPC and the IOC?

The relationship we enjoy with the IOC has been instrumental in the development of the Paralympic movement over the past 20 years and it is vital to the delivery of the Paralympic Games.  As the Paralympic Games garner more interest from media, sponsors, and the general public it will be interesting to see how the relationship evolves.