Muffy Davis: Motivation in Action

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 05/08/12 •  6 min read

Ever feel stuck in a rut? Completely unmotivated? Can’t seem to move ahead?

Well then, today’s your lucky day. Because there’s someone I’d like you to meet:

Muffy Davis.

Muffy is one of the most amazing skiers — make that one of the most amazing athletes — I’ve ever encountered. But more than that, she’s a master at motivation. And once you hear her story, I’m sure you’ll agree.

In 1989, at the age of 16, Muffy suffered a horrific ski accident.  A member of the Olympic Development Team, Muffy lost control during a training run at Sun Valley, Idaho — her home mountain — and crashed into not one, but two trees.  Ski patrol got her off the mountain, and she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. There, her father, a radiologist, was the first to read her x-rays. She had a fractured spine that left her paralyzed from mid-chest down.

Many people would have taken that as a sentence to a life spent sitting on the sidelines in a wheelchair. But that wasn’t Muffy’s way.

Within three years, she was racing competitively again. As a member of the US Disabled Ski Team, she competed in the 1998 Paralympics in Nagano Japan, winning a bronze. Then came a World Championship in 2000, two Overall World Cup Titles in 2001 and 2002, and more than 25 World Cup medals. In the 2002 Paralympics in Salt Lake City, UT, Muffy concluded her ski racing career with three Silver medals. Muffy was inducted into the US Ski and SnowBoard Hall of Fame in 2010, the fifth disabled skier to receive this immense honor. In 2002, Muffy and three other paraplegics made history by successfully summiting 14,162′  California’s Mt. Shasta, using hand cranked Snowpods. She then made the first ever wheelchair ascent of 14,110′ Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

Currently, Muffy is back in competitive athletics as a member of the US Paralympic Cycling Team.  She began competitive handcycling in 2010 as a way to get back in shape after having her daughter.  She won her first National Title just two months after beginning the sport.  Since then she’s accumulated numerous titles, including Overall World Cup Champion for 2011.  Muffy’s goal:  to represent the US in the 2012 Paralympics in London.

I recently spoke to Muffy from her home in Salt Lake City, right before she headed out for a training ride.

SD: Muffy, your accident was a life altering experience. What kept you from despair? And what motivated you to ski again?
MD: I definitely had hard days, but I think that’s normal. We all have challenges and obstacles, and I think it’s important to allow yourself to grieve. It’s healthy. You just don’t want to stay there. My mom was a big help. She said it was okay to have a grieving day instead of burying it and letting it stay with you. So I gave myself permission to be sad when I was sad, but I also left myself open to the positive. It also helped that I had an amazing support system. My family and the entire Sun Valley community really rallied around me and provided me with tremendous support.

Initially, I said I wasn’t going to ski unless I was standing up. But skiing was my passion; it was what I loved to do. I didn’t think I was going to race again; I just wanted to be out on the mountain where I felt free and whole. That was for me my escape. It was where I’d grown up; where I felt like Muffy. Everyone was very supportive when I said I wanted to ski again. And luckily, the technology existed through adaptive sports that allowed me to get out there again.

SD: What was it like being back on the snow? What kept you going, and weren’t you terrified?
MD: A little bit.  Mostly it was frustrating. I’d been this hot shot skier, and now I was a beginner again. It made me appreciate people who start skiing later in life because it’s a hard sport; it’s not easy. I remember thinking, “I don’t know why they call this skiing; it doesn’t feel like it.” At first, I just didn’t know what to do with my feet and every time I’d turn I’d fall over.  Remember, this was 23 years ago, and adaptive equipment has come a long, long way since then. For me, though, it was frustrating; it great to be back out there, but I didn’t reach  the skill level I wanted.  So I took a little break. I went out to California and went to school and I went to a great organization in Tahoe at Alpine Meadows. I met a wonderful instructor who took the time to get my feet right for me, and all of a sudden I started having success.

SD: So what made you start to compete again?
MD: I knew in my heart and soul that I was a ski racer. When I was 8 years old, I set the goal to go to the Olympics and the desire was still there. I realized that there was still a chance I could accomplish that. It was just a part of who I was.

SD: But you’re not skiing competitively anymore; you’re into hand cycling. Can you tell me about that?
MD: Yes. Skiing was awesome, but I knew I had other stuff to do. I retired from skiing, got married, traveled around the world, had a kid, and then I knew I had to get back into shape, so I took up handcycling, and I’m back into competition again.

Muffy Davis, champion handcyclist


SD: You also made the first ever wheelchair ascents of Pike’s Peak — which incidentally, is hard enough to do in a car.
MD: Yes, that was fun. We did Pike’s Peak and Mount Shasta, too, and we’ve had a lot of other fun adventures. I’m also an advanced scuba diver. I mean, I have an amazing life. When people say they’re sorry for me, I say, “Don’t be.”

SD: Are you going to be in the 2012 Paralympics Olympics in London?
MD: Right now it’s looking good. But you never know until after tryouts.

SD: I know you give lots of speeches on motivation. What keeps you going? And if you had one piece of advice to tell people about motivation, what would it be?
MD: You have to follow your passion — what inspires you; what makes you passionate about getting up everyday. Where do you see yourself and what do you want to do? Right now I’m working on being a Paralympic gold medalist. That’s where I see myself; that’s who I want to be. Everyday, that’s what I work for; to accomplish that goal. So really, it’s pursuing your passion and focusing on being the best you can be. That’s what I try to do.


No kidding. 🙂

Now get to it, people!