She rolls her wheelchair into a room.
She says: Instantly, the people who dont know me, the first thing that comes across their minds is what I cant do.
And thats what Im trying to change.
Muffy Davis reaches behind her wheelchair and pulls out a nondescript black pack. Nestled in the bag is a collection of medals: bronze, silver and gold. Each medal has a certain heft to it; none more so than the gold. Especially the gold. It has a certain presence.
The medals dont stay in the bag, nor do they reside in a safety deposit box. When she speaks to groups of schoolchildren, she brings them all along and passes them around, one at a time.
I want people to wear them, to know what it feels like. Thats the value for me sharing (them), letting people feel the power of the medal.
And then going and finding their own (dream).
When Muffy was an 8-year-old skier in Sun Valley, she was already planning her Olympic future. And while the medals she now holds originate in that childhood determination, her path ended up being far different than what she imagined.
I was an Olympic hopeful, but I am a Paralympic medalist. Who knows if I would have made it to the Olympics? I was a hopeful; it might not have happened. But I know what I am now: I am a Paralympic gold medalist.
In her teens, Muffy was on the U.S. Development ski team, about to be named to the U.S. Ski Team (along with teammate Picabo Street). But that all changed when she was 16, on a curve at 50 mph, during a routine training run.
You often wonder what you would have been, but I have a great life. Ive done everything Ive ever wanted to do and more than I ever thought I would do.
The first tree she hit crushed her spine. The second tree shattered her helmet. In the hospital, when doctors asked her to wiggle her toes, she couldnt.
I have been blessed that I never had to change my dreams or my goals because of my disability. ... Sports is a passion in my life. That was my first initial fear when I had my accident. I learned that was an unfounded fear, and I can still do everything I love.
Muffy, 39, is paralyzed from the middle of her ribs down. After the crash, she channeled her competitive energy into therapy. She laughs, remembering how shed turn physical therapy into a race like her three-minute 9-yard dash in braces. Convinced she would walk again, initially, she declined the idea of adaptive skiing.
But then it snowed, and, frankly, she missed Baldy, Sun Valleys ski mountain.
On the mountain, I was free; on the mountain, I was whole. (The mountain) became where my life changed and I knew that someday it would become my freedom again. It was just figuring out how to get there.
Muffy is an ambassador for Disabled Sports USA. Their motto is, If I can do this, I can do anything.
Thats the way I feel sports have been for me. After my accident, getting back on the slopes was like, Oh. I can still ski. Oh. Well then, I can go to school. Its so empowering, using sports throughout life for what is possible, for what do you want to do. Dont limit yourself.
So Muffy skied again. I had unfinished business, she says now. In 1998, she took bronze at the Paralympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, riding a monoski. She won gold in the 2000 world championships, three silver medals in the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, where she now lives, and then she retired.
I thought I was done. The competition, the skiing it couldnt get any better. I competed in my home country, I got on the podium three times. I had a wonderful ski racing career, from able-bodied through adaptive.
Always active, Muffy met the man who would become her husband on a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. She and Jeff Burley, a recreation therapist for adaptive sports, were married in 2004, and in 2008, their daughter Elle was born. To keep in shape after her pregnancy, Muffy took up handcycling.
The sport is so new that when Muffy was injured 23 years ago, adaptive mountain bikes and handcycles didnt exist. On her bike, Muffy lies on her back an aerodynamic position and pedals with her arms. She describes it as a street luge with gears.
I love love riding. I love handcycling, almost more than skiing, which seems taboo (to say). I feel like I am the athlete I was before my accident.
Most of it is how hard can you crank, how hard can you get in that pain cave. I wouldnt say I like the pain cave, but I like knowing I can push myself hard and push myself through that pain.
I know (the pain) will end dig deep. How hard can you dig, how long can you hurt? And thats when youre going to win.
Driven athlete that she is, she set goals. She entered races, she went to a camp; on a whim, she competed in nationals and won. The sport is so new that the field wasnt deep, she says, but that win placed her on the U.S. World Championship team. In the world championships, Muffy got three silver medals.
Once I knew I was competitive internationally, everything kind of changed.
Going for the Paralympics again competing on such an elite level meant a serious, full-time commitment, a decision that, this time, affected more than her.
Youll never make the Paralympics or Olympics unless its a 100 percent commitment. And that means a sacrifice for everyone, the whole family. So we went for it.
It was a team. Thats why we joke (that) I got three medals: one for me, one for Jeff, one for Elle.
Three golds in London: in the handcycle time trial, road race and handcycle relay.
I used to say God made me to be a ski racer. Just this last year, I re-edited that. Now I say, God made me to be a competitor. Thats where I am fully Muffy when Im in the starting gate or on that field to play, or pushing myself to be my best in athletics. Thats where Im really me, 100 percent.
And thats the place where Muffys story intersects with us mere mortals, who will never be Olympic or Paralympic athletes. It is, simply, figuring out where one is fully oneself.
In the morning, when you wake up, what is your motivation? Whats getting you out of bed?
Whats your goal? Whats your dream? I say that to kids and I say that to corporate people; it doesnt matter who you are. ...
Whats your passion? Whats in your gut? Find it. Figure it out. Because otherwise, youre just on a treadmill; youre running and you dont know what youre running after.
And the question is not merely about athletics.
Its about giving 100 percent, and if giving 100 percent is fourth place that day, thats great. Like: You did the best you can do.
Thats what I want to teach my daughter: I dont want to teach her second place is the first loser. I want to teach her to go out and give her best, whatever that is. ...
Thats the message, I think, we lose in America. We focus on that No. 1 I have to be The Best. But none of us have control over that. Every day: Am I doing the best I can? Am I being the best mom I can be? Am I being the best wife I can be? And working on that, instead of being The Best.
When Muffy was in high school before her accident (and only because she had blown out her knee and couldnt go to ski camp), she attended an academic motivation camp, where one assignment was to write her mission statement. She remembers cringing because everyone else wrote about becoming a doctor or lawyer normal things and she did not.
I look back, and it is truly my lifes mission statement. And it is, I am about success through determination. I am here to live the best that I can and, through that, lead others to be the best they can be.
She used to groan when someone used the i-word inspiration when talking about her. Im just living my life, she would complain to her parents. But the world needs inspiration.
I dont ever want to be the person who tells someone their dreams are too high. I want to be the person who says, What do you want to do? How can I help get you there? ...
My job in this world is not to judge anyone else, but to love, and bring goodness and support and I think inspiration.
We all have our challenges. We all have our limitations; we all have our disabilities. My mission is to say, Well, dont focus on what you cant do. Focus on what you can. And lets show the world all that we can do and all that were capable of.
Know someone living from the heart? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.