Muffy Davis began weekend ski lessons at the age of
four and remembers spending most of her "ski time" drinking hot chocolate in the
lodge. Hot chocolate must be very good for you because in just three years she found
herself on the Sun Valley (Idaho) Ski Team and improving quickly into one of the brightest
young skiers on the mountain. Two years later her family made the 70 mile move from Twin
Falls to live full time in Sun Valley.
|Picabo Street (left) and Muffy Davis were good friends and each
others toughest competition from their earliest days on the Sun Valley Ski Team
Muffy became an honor student at Wood River High School with a
stated goal to win an Olympic gold medal. She also became good friends and the
head-to-head competitor with a very talented classmate by the name of Picabo Street.
"Both of us always wanted to win real bad, each pushing the
other to be our best," said Muffy from her Sun Valley home. "She is a year older
than I am, and I always had to be 100% to beat her, and vice versa. I know I wouldnt
have been as good a skier without Picabo to compete against."
When Davis woke up Saturday morning, February 18th, 1989, she had no
idea that a turning point in her life was only hours away. She had been named to the US
Olympic development ski team, and training directly with the US Olympic ski team in Sun
Valley. They were skiing a new downhill course early that morning and Muffy was the the
third skier, and the first female, down the run. As Muffy blew down Bald Mountain at 55
mph the course made a sharp turn and simultaneously crossed a "cat" track (a
machine used for grooming ski areas). Unable to hold her line in the rough snow, she
hurtled off the course and hit two trees, one after the other. Davis hit the first tree
with her back fracturing her spine and the second tree with her head, shattering her
helmet. The helmet most surely saved her life.
hitting two trees, Muffy lies in the snow attended by the ski patrol.
She had broken her back at mid-chest level, T6-7, in spinal
geography. Ski patrol got her off the mountain, then an ambulance took her to the hospital
where her father, a radiologist, was the first to read her x-rays. "It was a serious
compression fracture. You wake up from surgery and, you know, you try to wiggle your
toes...you expect them to move and they dont. Thats when it kind of hit
me." She was paralyzed from the mid-chest down, complete paraplegia.
Within days Muffy was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital in
Colorado for what would become a three month stay. Her mother sold her interest in a real
estate office and moved to Colorado to stay with Muffy full-time, while her father visited
on the weekends.
Muffy recounts her first days and weeks in rehab and trying to come
to terms with her accident. "First, there was denial, then anger...at life, not at
anyone in particular. Then came depression. I thought, My life is over. Im
never going to ski race again...never have another boyfriend. I just wanted to die
ambulance prepares to rush Muffy to the hospital.
Then, one night, Muffy had a revelation, a defining moment,
that changed her life again, but in a very different way. It changed her spirit.
"One night I was having a lot of sadness, a lot of real anxiety
about my accident. And then a dream...or vision...a Higher Power came to me. What I was
told or what I understood was that this accident happened for a reason, and there was a
lot to be learned and gained from my disability. And once I had learned and gained it all,
I would walk again. Ever since that moment there has been this real sense of peace."
"When my mom came in the next morning I said to her, I
know youre upset about this but Im okay with it and you need to be, too.
Well just take each day as it comes...no regrets...and well learn all that we
can from it. The accident basically renewed my relationship with God."
Muffy Davis was just 16 years old.
The small, close-knit communities of Sun Valley, Haley, and Ketchum,
known collectively as the Wood River Valley, encircled Davis with its love and support.
She sat in her hospital room on Easter Sunday and opened card after card, present after
present, reminding her that, "... there was a hundred people to help me if I needed
it." Several months after Davis returned home to Sun Valley she drove to the nearby
grocery store to buy some food, also prepared to practice the labor intensive process of
pulling her wheelchair out of the car and transferring herself from car to wheelchair.
"There were so many people asking me if I needed anything or if
they could help," she recalls. "It was really hard to tell them that I needed to
learn to do it for myself."
Then there was Gretchen Fraser, a role model and true inspiration to
Davis. Fraser won the gold medal in the slalom at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics, making her
the first American, man or woman, to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing. Even before
the accident Fraser, a Sun Valley resident, had been sending her supportive notes and
messages. Then, as Muffy began recuperating in Colorado, a package arrived from Fraser
containing a gold, four leaf clover broche with three radiant sapphires in the middle.
This spectcular gift had been given to to Fraser after her stunning Olympic victory by
Averell Harriman, then president of the Union Pacific Railroad. To her knowledge only one
other like it exists, owned by the late-Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
"She wanted me to have the same good luck, love, and support
that she had enjoyed. She helped me realize that the power and value in things comes from
giving to others. She shared not only the pin, but her life with me. Gretchen is the
epitomy of a great person as well as a great athlete." After a short pause she added,
"If I can touch just one person the way that Gretchen touched me in my life, it will
have been successful."
racing was still in her blood when Davis graduated with honors from prestigious Stanford
University in 1995.
Muffy Davis went on to become Wood River High Schools
homecoming queen and eventually the Valedictorian of her graduating class. She entered
Stanford University and graduated in 1995 with a 3.5 GPA and a degree in human biology,
with an emphasis on the psycho-social aspects of disability. She was presented with the
alumni associations only award, the J.E. Wallace Sterling Award for service to the
But, even with so many incredible accomplishments and obstacles
overcome, one important challenge still remained in Davis life: to ski-race again.
The adaptive skiing aparatus for paraplegics is called a mono-ski -
a bucket seat mounted on a motorcycle shock absorber, then attached to a single ski.
Outriggers, using the technololgy of forearm crutches, are attached to ski tips and used
for balance. She had been told that her level of paralysis was so great that she probably
would not be able to successfully operate a mono-ski. And certainly no one as severely
injured as she had ever raced successfully. That was all Muffy Davis, whose skiing
nickname is "Guns" for her powerful biceps developed from years of weight
training, needed to hear for adequate motivation.
"The same mountain that at one time had been my freedom, my
release, now was my challenge - a huge obstacle. On [Bald] Mountain my life had been
changed forever. My goal wasnt really to race, but just to have the mountain (back)
to express freedom and emotional release again."
The turning point came the day that Davis drove her truck alone to
the ski area parking lot, got the mono-ski out all by herself, and proceeded to ski all
"That day I knew I had come full circle. The mountain that had
started out being my freedom had become a great obstacle...and now it was my freedom
again." She continued, "Life isnt fair. Everyone encounters pain. But I
truly believe that we are strong enough to handle everything that comes to us....but
support is crucial and you have to give yourself time to heal."
"I dont know if I would have discovered (this) level of
happiness...if I hadnt been challenged to discover what is really important by
experiencing my disability."
1998 was Muffys third season disabled ski racing and her first
on the US Disabled Ski Team, and was highlighted by winning the bronze medal in the super
giant slalom at the Paralympics in Nagano, Japan. In 1999 she won three gold medals at the
World Cup Finals and was honored by the Paralyzed Veterans of America with their
Outstanding Skier Award for her skiing accomplishments and her outstanding public service.
She finished the 99 season with two gold medals and a silver at the Canadian
Disabled Nationals in Banff, Alberta and is currently in training for the 2002
Paralympics, which will take place side-by-side with the Winter Olympics, by competing in
this years World Cup races in the U.S. and Europe.
Davis takes both an optimistic and a philosophical view of the
current advances in spinal cord research. She is encouraged by the exciting developments
that could help her walk again one day.
Davis is preparing for the 2002 Paralympics. Her chances for a medal are good if her
current World Cup gold medal success is any indication.
"But I dont live for that day. I live for today...with
hope that maybe that day will come, but enjoying and appreciating each day that I have. If
a cure is found, thats great! But if I live the rest of my life in a wheelchair,
Ill have no regrets. My life is full and I love who I am and what Im doing.
Thats what I focus on."
"You know," Davis concludes, "life never goes exactly
the way we plan it. But if youre flexible and willing to roll with the punches, you
can accomplish whatever you set your mind to...if you give yourself enough time and are
willing to work hard enough."
When Muffy Davis was just 15 years old, she was asked in a school
assignment to briefly describe the essence of who she was. With prophetic wisdom beyond
her years she wrote, "I am about success through determination. I am here to live the
best I can and through that, lead others into the best they can be."
You can watch and listen to a recent interview with Muffy. Just click here