Marianna “Muffy” Davis ’95 was 16 when she suffered a spinal cord injury during a training session for her professional ski team and became paralyzed. More than 30 years after what could have marked the end of her athletic career, she was inducted into the U.S. Olympics and Paralympics Hall of Fame.
A seven-time medalist, Davis, former Idaho state representative and Paralympian skier and cyclist, was inducted to the 2022 class on June 24, alongside athletic icons like Michael Phelps, Mia Hamm and Lyndsay Vonn.
Davis won three silver and one bronze Paralympic medals in paraskiing and three gold Paralympic medals in para-cycling over the course of her 10-year athletic career (2002-2012). She has been a part of the Paralympic Movement as an athlete, ambassador and volunteer, and has also served on the International Paralympic Committee Governing Board since 2017, an organization that aims to give disabled athletes the opportunity to compete professionally and transform societal attitudes about disability.
Davis said the induction ceremony was “surreal, just something you don’t imagine ever dreaming of happening,” in an interview with The Daily. The athletes recognized this year spent a weekend together at the Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs celebrating their accomplishments. “It was an amazing, wonderful experience and a great weekend to hang out and have with these terrific athletes,” Davis said.
Davis’s daughter, Elle Davis, who was also present at the induction ceremony, said “everything that my mom has been through and worked for has led to this… her story brought me to tears.”
In Davis’s acceptance speech, she expressed gratitude for her family and other people who made it possible for her to grow in her athletic career, including female athletes who paved the way for women in sports and the Olympians and Paralympians who championed the Paralympic Movement. To overcome challenges, “you need that support system, your foundation, to help pull you through and get you back on track,” Davis said.
Davis also said the Paralympic movement made her realize that there was a path forward as a competitive athlete after she became paralyzed at age 16 during a downhill practice run with her ski team. “About 20 years before I had been injured, I would have never had that opportunity,” Davis said.
Marc Mast, Davis’s first monoski instructor, said Davis was “very intelligent and highly motivated” as an athlete. He said he was not surprised by her induction into the hall of fame. “She is an accomplished skier and handcycler,” he said. “It was just a matter of time before that was going to happen.”
New skiing technology made it possible for her to improve and succeed as an adaptive skier, Davis said.
Mast said Davis would meet him at Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe for training every break during her time at Stanford. Mast recommended Davis attend Sarah Will’s monoski camp in Vail, where Davis found the ski that enabled her to have the most breakthrough: the Yeti. Mast said the Yeti’s seat supported Davis’s back better, and the new skill increased her abilities “tenfold.”
Despite her appreciation, Davis said the Paralympic Movement needs to grow “in media and sponsorship coverage, to get to parity with the Olympic Movement.”
The 2021 Tokyo Games were the first time the Paralympic games were covered in prime time. Covered by NBC, the programming hours increased from 70 at the 2016 Rio games to over 1,200 at Tokyo. This still fell short of that of the Olympic games, which typically receive up to 7,000 hours of coverage. Davis hopes to keep pushing sponsors and the media to increase coverage.
“I want that little girl in a wheelchair who just wants to be an athlete to be able to see other girls up there doing that and know that she can accomplish that,” Davis said. “The only way that’s going to happen is by media coverage.”
Reflecting on her Stanford career, Davis praised the University’s support for her disability. Davis said the University’s Office of Accessibility Education and student community provided many resources, one of her reasons for attending Stanford.
One of her favorite resources was the Disabled Students of Stanford Speakers Bureau. “We shared our stories in hopes of breaking down barriers and helping people understand disability,” Davis said. “For me, being able to do that really empowered me as a person with a disability to realize there is nothing wrong with disability, it’s just society’s interpretation of disability.”
Elle said her mother’s friends at Stanford were also incredibly important. “Her friends she met encouraged her to achieve her dreams and were there step by step along with Stanford itself,” she said.
Several disability advocates raised concerns in recent years that Stanford’s resources for community members with disabilities are insufficient. Speaking on a Daily opinion piece raising awareness on accessibility issues with Stanford’s Disability Community Space, which recently opened after decades of student advocacy, Davis said it was great people were speaking out because the needs of different students vary.
“Stanford really wants to be inclusive for all, so I think it’s great that people are able to communicate their needs, and that will make positive changes,” she said.
While Davis said Stanford provided her with considerable support and an “exceptional college career,” she wished there was more representation of Paralympian Stanford graduates in the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It would be nice if they could reach out and acknowledge the accomplishments of the Paralympian Stanford Alumni in that hall where they recognize the Olympians,” she said.
Carter Henderson, associate athletics director for Marketing and Communications, wrote in a statement to The Daily that the University’s Athletics Hall of Fame “currently inducts athletes or coaches who have competed in sponsored intercollegiate sports at Stanford.” While skiing is a sponsored intercollegiate sport at Stanford, the University does not sponsor an adaptive ski team.
“The accomplishments of Muffy Davis are truly remarkable, and her induction into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame is a testament to her outstanding career,” Henderson wrote. “The Hall of Fame committee will continue to evaluate the best ways to honor Stanford’s deep history of athletic excellence.”
Davis encouraged the Stanford community to continue striving for change and overcoming obstacles by taking it day by day. “You’re going to have good days and you’re going to have hard days that keep you from getting up and moving forward,” she said. “But sometimes, these are opportunities for growth.”