In her home office in Millcreek, above a window, Muffy Davis has a sign hanging as a reminder to herself. When she signs autographs, she passes along the same message.
"Never, never, never give up."
The truth is though Davis has been in a wheelchair since she was 16, she hasn't even been close to giving up in the past few years some of the most productive of her life after retiring from competitive skiing in 2002. She got married, gave birth to a daughter and has since emerged as a gold-medal contender in her latest athletic pursuit: handcycling.
It's fair to say that maybe Davis doesn't understand the meaning of the word "retirement." Or "giving up."
"Some people go to the gym, but I've never really understood that," says 39-year-old Davis. "I'm an athlete: I have to compete. I need something to keep me motivated."
Davis is London-bound in September, ready to represent the United States in up to three handcycling events in the Paralympic Games. She'll compete in handcycling time trials and road racing and is likely going to ride a leg of the relay team.
As a skier, she won three silver medals and a bronze between the 1998 and 2002 Games. Although she's won handcycling events at the World Championships and World Cup, this will be her first Olympics on her bike. And Davis is aiming for the long-awaited Olympic Gold.
"I expect nothing but the best, so I hope it's three golds," she says. "It'd be quite an accomplishment for having such a quick learning curve."
Davis was active after her skiing career ended, taking up mountain climbing and mountain biking. Her pregnancy, which was high risk because it's hard to regulate her blood pressure, slowed her down a bit. She was looking to get back into sports in 2009 when she was approached by Neil Harding, a fellow Utahn who was trying to put together a small handcycling team.
From the beginning, Harding says, he knew Davis had the right stuff to be near the top of the world in another sport.
"It's hard for me to say I was a part of it, because she's such a natural athlete all the way around," Harding says. "She learned a lot of those skills from skiing and applied them for everything else she did. That's the outstanding thing about Muffy: She trains hard, she's competitive, but also gracious and accommodating. She's a great sportswoman."
Handcycling did come naturally to Davis, and the women's field itself is generally thin in local events. She won the Salt Lake Marathon the first year she entered, four months after her daughter was born. More wins followed, until she caught the interest of the U.S. National Team.
Davis had some carryover from skiing. Her musculature and frame have always been a competitive advantage for adaptive sport. Whipping around turns on the slopes prepared her for handling curves on the road as well. In the U.S., Davis is far and away the best, beating her nearest opponent by nearly 4 1/2 minutes in the national time trials.
But handcycling tends to have fairly serious wear and tear the arms are not physically designed to handle the same amount of stress as legs, Davis acknowledges. She's suffered tendinitis in her elbows and wrists and required injections. Last summer after the World Championships, she had to have a section of her neck fused after a disc wobbled out of place.
"It's just that never-ending physical load on my arms Â even when I'm done racing, I still have to use them in my chair," she says. "It's definitely tough on your heart and spirit."
The other challenge for Davis is being away from her family for training. Her husband, Jeff Burley, is left with their daughter, Glenda. Davis visits them often over Skype and takes time to record herself reading stories that her 3-year-old can listen to at night.
The whole family is coming to London to see if Davis can finally get gold. She'll be riding as hard as she can, but knowing her daughter can watch her compete is already a dream for Davis.
If she wins, her medals will be tucked away. The halls in her home are already decorated with her daughter's drawings, and there's plenty of space for any medals Glenda might win.
"The most rewarding thing is watching her grow," Davis says. "She's No. 1. I want to be the best mom."
About Muffy Davis
The Utahn is likely to compete in three handcycling events in the 2012 Paralympics and is expected to medal in all three.
She alson won three silver medals at the 2002 Paralympics and lit the torch at the Games.
Only athlete to win an overall championship in skiing and handcycling.