In her speaking career, Muffy Davis urges others to live by four words: Don’t just survive, thrive.
Now, the seven-time Paralympic medalist wants to bring the optimism and energy of that message to a spot on the International Paralympic Committee governing board. Davis is among 22 candidates seeking one of the 10 at-large positions on the board available at the September election during the IPC General Assembly in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
“I’ve always been involved in non-profits, in leadership roles in different communities or organizations,” said Davis, who competed both as an alpine skier and a cyclist. “My passion is Paralympics, so this would be for me the ideal position to donate my time to make a positive impact on future generations to achieve their dreams and goals.
“Paralympics isn’t just the Games every two years,” she continued. “It’s in the heart and soul and in your living room. People live this day in and day out. Our movement is to inspire and motivate everyone — not just Paralympians — to be the best they can be through sports.”
A top U.S. skiing prospect in the late 1980s, Davis’ dream of Olympic competition was dashed by a near-fatal downhill training accident in February 1989 that left her paralyzed from the mid-chest down. After graduating from Stanford in 1995, the Sun Valley, Idaho, native returned to skiing, medaling at the Paralympic Winter Games in 1998 in Nagano and 2002 in Salt Lake City. She overcame neck surgery in 2011 to also win three cycling gold medals in 2012 in London.
“I feel blessed I was able to still compete, because of the Paralympic Movement,” Davis said. “It’s an amazing movement and I feel like I have a lot to offer it.”
If Davis gains election in September, her priorities are clear: involve more women — especially those from developing nations — in the Paralympic movement; encourage athletes to stay involved after their competitive careers end; and continue growing sponsorship dollars.
“As we proceed into this next era of leadership, we need to continue growing our awareness in the world, and also our collaboration with the IOC and other organizations throughout the world,” she said. “A rising tide lifts all ships.”
Davis spoke with TeamUSA.org about what she hopes to bring to the IPC governing board.
You’re a member of the IPC Women in Sport Commission, you’re a mom, you have a job. What inspires you to run for this position?
The timing is right for me to do this. My daughter Elle is 8 years old. I was fortunate to be able to stay home with her when she was younger, and now she is in school full time. I moved back to our hometown in Idaho a year ago; I wanted to offer my daughter the same wonderful opportunities I had growing up in a small town.
I work full-time at St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation as stewardship coordinator, so I work with our donors, and I love that. I speak part-time, and I’m involved in several other boards and committees, so if I were to be elected to the governing board I would cut down some of my other volunteer commitments.
Sir Philip Craven has been president of the International Paralympic Committee for 12 years and the Paralympics have grown so much during that time. How do you manage and continue that growth?
Sir Philip Craven has been absolutely amazing in what he has accomplished and what he has brought to Paralympians. It will be a big transition and change, because he has been a great leader and so powerful. It will be interesting to see where the new president’s priorities will go. Our relationship with the IOC is very important, and we need to continue to empower that relationship and realize both organizations benefit from working together.
And, as much as Paralympics has grown, it still amazes me that I run into people pretty much daily who don’t know about it yet — kids and other people with disabilities that don’t know what’s available. There is still so much growing to do, especially in developing countries.
One of your passions is getting more women involved in the movement.
The IPC governing board just passed a guideline that it wants 50 percent of representation on the top boards and coaching positions to be women, and we are nowhere near that yet. In some developing countries, getting involved in athletics may not be a traditional role for women. I want to get out there and educate about the opportunities the Paralympics gives women.
For me, through sports, I learned I don’t have to set limits — whether it is having a family, or my job. I learned I was strong; I learned what I could accomplish, and that I still had so many opportunities in front of me. I want to share that with other women throughout the world.
How, specifically, can you involve more women in Paralympic governance?
Having been a member of the Women in Sport committee the last few years, I learned we have to offer incentives to countries inclined to bring only male athletes to competitions, to also bring female athletes to the Games or to different high-level competitions.
Getting women to 50 percent of coaches, classifiers and people who run various committees — gaining parity across the movement — will really empower women to have a voice, especially in countries where their role is not necessarily viewed as being athletic. I also want to educate parents on the benefits of getting their female children involved in sports. It helps empower them and give them the strength to go out and pursue other careers.
There is a great conference going on next May in Botswana, the International Working Group on Women and Sports, which is huge opportunity to reach out. The Paralympics will have a big voice in this conference. So we need to collaborate with organizations there, not reinvent the wheel, but just try to help build them up and grow their opportunities to get more women and more people involved.
You’ve also talked about expanding opportunities for retired athletes.
That’s another passion of mine, reinvigorating the athletes. The movement has been amazing but I think where we have lacked is keeping our Paralympians involved after they retire — as mentors, coaches, committee members. I think that’s vital. There is not going to be anyone as passionate about the movement as someone who has benefitted from it directly.
Every Paralympic athlete has an amazing story. Not all are so inclined to give back and help educate and help show that, and to each his own, but the ones who want to be mentors or get involved, we have to help facilitate that and make it easier to do.
Those are all big goals.
Absolutely, and I think it starts with funding. We need to continue to keep growing the Agitos Foundation, growing our sponsorship and our awareness. Through that, we get developed countries to collaborate with developing countries and share what they’ve learned. If we grow the foundation’s ability to offer grants and run and help development programs, we can mentor and get more women involved in the movement.
You can’t do everything, have to focus. First we have to grow the dollars, the sponsorships. We have a great international brand. Our future is immensely bright.