Muffy Davis was just a teenager when she suffered a skiing accident while training in the late 1980s. She was one of the top-ranked U.S. junior ski racers in the country, and had set her sights on the Olympics – a realistic goal for such an accomplished athlete.
But that accident would change all that. Paralyzed from the chest down, she had to re-evaluate life. And that she has done.
Davis not only went on to compete, but to win. She’s a skier, climber and cyclist, who graduated from Stanford University. She on competed and won medals in both the 1998 and 2002 Winter Paralympic Games and was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. At the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London, she competed in handcycling, winning an unprecedented three gold medals in her sport.
This summer, Davis comes to Alaska to race in the Alaska Challenge. We caught up with her to get her thoughts on racing, staying tough amid adversity and balancing her busy life.
You’ve been competitive for a long time and have excelled at so many sports. How do you manage training and regular life – being a mom and wife and other commitments?
This is one of my greatest challenges. When I was a competitive ski racer, I was single and it was just me, so it was easier to focus on my training and competitions. Now as a wife, mother, businesswoman and athlete, it’s much more difficult to find the time and focus that is required to be successful. When I decided to get back into Paralympic competition as a paracyclist in 2010, I had a talk with my husband, because it was a team decision; my husband and daughter all had to make sacrifices in order for me to reach my Paralympic dreams. That’s why we joke that it was fitting that I won three golds: one for each of us.
Winning three golds at London had to be a dream come true, but now that you are the one to beat, the target is on your back. What are your goals for Rio in 2016?
Well, I haven’t officially announced it, so I guess I’m announcing it now, but I’m retiring, I won’t be making a bid for Rio 2016. I have had five major surgeries in the last four years, am finally out of the chronic pain I had been in for two-plus years and just not willing to go back there, which I know is what would be necessary to be competitive in Rio. I also don’t have the same passion and drive that I had going into London, perhaps because I finally got the coveted gold medals I had been desiring for so long. I also think a big part is my daughter. She sacrificed enough with me traveling and training for London, now she is really thriving with me being present more and able to spend time and focus on her.
How many times have you raced in The Alaska Challenge?
Actually, this will be my first Alaska Challenge. I was registered to race in 2013, but then was nominated for an ESPY for best female athlete with a disability and they were the same week as the AC, so I wasn’t able to race that year. I am very excited and eager for this year’s race; it’s been on my bucket list for awhile.
Your motto of Thrive, Not Survive is such a grounded way of living, whether you are in a wheelchair or not. How has living up to this motto helped you achieve your goals?
I see my disability and all that I have learned through it as a blessing, that is what has enabled me to discover and really live this motto. I know I can survive anything life hands me, because I’ve done that, but for me surviving isn’t enough, I don’t just want to get by, I want to be the best I can be, at whatever it is I attempt: being an athlete, a mother, a wife, a businesswoman.
There are only two women in the racing field this year, yourself included. What are your personal goals for this year’s race?
One thing I have learned is to never underestimate any other competitor. Even though there are just two women I’m by no means guaranteed a win. I have to go out there and give it my best every day and hopefully that will be enough for a win. Having had major elbow surgery last year and another major surgery 17 months ago, I’m still working on my recovery. I’m finally out of pain and want to stay that way, so my goal is to race smart, not reinjure myself and hopefully get to the finish line each day.
There is a new stage this year, a .3-mile crit-style race with racers recovering as many laps as possible in a set time. How do you think that could play to your strengths/challenge your weaknesses?
This will be a fun addition, I really like crits, and historically have been a good technical rider, so this could really play to those strengths. But having not raced a crit in a year, and being on new equipment, hopefully that won’t hinder me.
Your handcycle – these pieces of machinery are fine-tuned and impressive. Tell us a little about your bike.
I ride a Top End Force RX. It’s the only bike I’ve ever raced and I really love it. I am completely comfortable handling it at high speeds and corners. The bike I’m on this year is new, has less axel camber than I’ve had in the past and the crank height is slightly lower as well. I like having my shifting and brake in my handles, so I installed flexible noodles so that my cables are still attached to the handles but don’t flap over the top but rather are neatly tucked in the underside of my handles. I also add padding behind my back and under the top of my femurs to get my body positioned the way I like it.
Tell us a little about what you like to do when you are not competing. Any other hobbies we might not know about?
I love to camp, travel and do any kind of adventure. I always say, I’ll try anything once, if I like it, I’ll do it again. I enjoy hosting dinner parties with friends and neighbors and just being social. I had the opportunity to teach social studies in my daughter’s kindergarten class this past year and really loved spending time with and getting to know all the kids. And I love to dance!
And about your family: What is your favorite way to spend a free day with them?
My daughter is now 6-and-a-half and is so much fun to do stuff with. I love when we can all go as a family and do some outdoor activity: skiing, mountain biking, river rafting, kayaking, anything outdoors and away from technology where we can just enjoy each other’s company and hang out playing.
Lastly, share with us three things about Muffy Davis that we can’t find on the Internet:
My favorite band is Maroon 5: I love all their music.
I could never flip an egg, but I practiced it a ton and finally got it down, now I love flipping eggs in the morning. And I’m so proud when I do it perfectly.
I’m an insanely aggressive driver. I drive my minivan like its a race car and my daughter, at 3, yelled at the car in front of us – “get out of Mom’s way!”
One final bit of info: I started my competitive career in Alaska – Mount Alyeska, at the 1984 ski racing Junior Olympics. I think it’s fitting that I end my competitive athletic career in Alaska 31 years later.