Finding Her Own Path

11/24/2015

Winter 2015

Paralympian Muffy Davis Discovers Her Own Way to Olympic Gold – and Hitting the Open Road in Her Subaru

If you drive through Utah’s mountain ranges long enough, chances are you’ll pass a packed cream-colored Subaru Outback that’s just a little bit different. This particular Outback has been modified to be driven exclusively through hand controls, and behind the wheel you’ll find seven-time Paralympic medalist Muffy Davis ushering her daughter, two dogs, wheelchair, and athletic equipment to wherever they need to go. Since a freak training accident changed her life in her teens, Davis has pushed the limits through her storied Paralympic career in alpine skiing and cycling. “If I can do what I do and inspire and motivate others to be their best, then it’s a gift,” she says. “And what does the world need more right now than inspiration, motivation, and positivity?”

Incredible Challenges

Davis grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, where she started ski racing at age 7 and dreamed of becoming an Olympic ski racer. She quickly became one of the top-ranked U.S. junior racers in the late 1980s and, training alongside Olympian Picabo Street, was poised to make the U.S. National Team. But while training on her home mountain early one morning at age 16, Davis lost control going 45 mph on a downhill run.

She went through a safety fence, bounced off a tree and flew five feet before bouncing off another tree. Her father, who happened to be the radiologist on duty that day at the local hospital, scanned his own daughter’s X-rays. Miraculously, she survived, but with a crushed back that left her paralyzed from the chest down.

Muffy Davis attends the 2013 ESPY Awards.
Davis attends the 2013 ESPY Awards.
Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Unbroken

While Davis was busy adapting to life in a wheelchair, her childhood idol, Street, was winning her first Olympic medal on the slopes. “For me, that was the impetus to reignite my dream and goal to compete,” Davis says. “I learned how to adapt to skiing, but it took a little while to get that motivation back again.” Davis quickly learned to ski again – this time on a monoski – and was back racing in no time.

Changing Her Fate

Nine years to the day after her accident, Davis was named to the U.S. alpine skiing team, competing at the 1998 Nagano Winter Paralympic Games and taking the bronze medal in the slalom. Four years later, Davis had the opportunity to change her fate in her own backyard. Before the 2002 Salt Lake City games, she moved from Sun Valley to Park City to train on the games’ race hill for two years. 

It paid off, as Davis won three silver medals, finishing second in the downhill, super-G, and giant slalom. She also helped light the cauldron at the games’ opening ceremony in front of 50,000 ecstatic fans. 

Getting Her Hands on a Subaru

During her years on the national ski team, Davis couldn’t partner with certain companies due to sponsorship agreements. But as soon as she retired from the team in late 2002, she called up Kirk Schneider, owner of Nate Wade Subaru in Salt Lake City. Nate Wade Subaru had previously partnered with the region’s National Ability Center – which empowers people of all abilities through sport – by donating funds and vehicles to its programs. Both Nate Wade and Subaru of America, Inc. funded a portion of Davis’ new Subaru Outback, which was modified with hand controls for the acceleration and brake pedals, and she even starred in a Nate Wade Subaru television commercial. Nate Wade Subaru has continued its support of this program, part of Subaru Love Promise as of 2013, to do good in the community.

Subaru Mobile-It-Ease™ program provides partial reimbursement on new vehicle modifications for owners with physical disability.
Subaru Mobile-It-Ease™ program provides partial reimbursement on new vehicle modifications for owners with physical disability.

Easier Than Ever to Be Different

Purchasing a modified vehicle was much easier than it had been for Davis the year after her accident, thanks to the Subaru Mobile-It-Ease™ program. The program provides partial reimbursement on new vehicles to help owners with a physical disability get the necessary modifications to be able to drive them. Recently revamped, the program is better than ever, and now provides reimbursement of up to $1,000 for each vehicle.

Torchbearer Muffy Davis carries the Olympic Flame during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Torch Relay in Henefer, Utah.
Torchbearer Muffy Davis carries the Olympic
Flame during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Torch
Relay in Henefer, Utah.

Winning Her Way – Again

Still driving her modified Subaru, and after giving birth to her daughter Elle in 2008, Davis decided it was time to get back into shape, so she took up handcycling.

 A recreational outlet quickly evolved into international competition for the goal-oriented Davis, who put herself on the fast track by winning a national handcycling title in 2010 and a world title in 2011. Then came London in 2012: a coming-out party for the Paralympics, drawing 2.7 million spectators and a cumulative TV audience of 3.8 billion. “We were full athletes embraced by the entire country just the same way that the Olympic athletes were,” Davis said. By taking the corners on London’s Brands Hatch course more aggressively than her opponents thanks to her background in skiing, Davis sped to three gold medals on the biggest stage in the world. She was the only athlete to win three Paralympic titles in road cycling at those games. “I always thought my sport was skiing, but I had to end up switching sports to win a gold medal,” Davis recalls. “It turns out my personality fit well with the sport. Cycling is a lot of how hard can you suffer and how much can you push through the pain. That tends to be one of my strengths.”

Muffy Davis has won three Paralympic titles in road cycling.
Davis has won three Paralympic titles in road cycling. Photo: ©Joe Kusumoto Photography

New Chapters

Davis hopes to take part in the 2016 Rio Summer Paralympics in a different capacity, perhaps as a commentator, and will continue sharing her story with audiences around the world. Davis has already given a TED Talk, but her favorite speaking engagements are those in schools, because children aren’t afraid to ask exactly what they’re thinking whereas adults censor their questions about disability. “Going in to speak to a group of 24 six-year-olds, I’m more nervous than speaking to a whole executive group,” she admits. Davis is also in the process of publishing a book, which she hopes will be available in 2016. “It’s a great time to be disabled,” Davis says. “I’m not saying go out and break your back, but if that were to happen, you don’t have to change your goals and dreams. You can still do anything.” 

Learn more about the Subaru Mobile-It-Ease program.