Board of Directors
President: Marilyn Smith of Hood River, Oregon, is a graduate of the University of Michigan and brings a wide variety of skills to her work with Unite 2 Fight Paralysis. She has many years of experience as a fundraiser, event planner, and volunteer coordinator for nonprofit organizations. She has also worked as a tax consultant, webmaster, and office manager in the for-profit world. When her son was paralyzed in 2002 by a wheel that flew off of an oncoming vehicle, she immediately went to work to help him make the best of his situation. Following the “Spring Into Action” Rally in Washington, DC, in 2005, Marilyn carried her organizational skills over to U2FP, and gave thousands of volunteer hours to oversee the successful launch of the organization. She is one of the co-founders of U2FP, and served as Executive Director from 2009-2017 before moving into the role of Board President.
David Zacks is from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he joined his family’s manufacturing business in 1993. Quickly learning about all facets of running a successful small business, his passion and energy soon translated into strong leadership skills that helped fuel the company’s growth and eventual international expansion. Married and the father of 3 children, David’s flourishing life was rudely interrupted in January 2005 when a snowmobile accident left him with a C5/6 complete spinal cord injury. Determined to take action rather than wait for curative therapies, David visited the Keck Center at Rutgers University to learn about the current state of research science. Convinced that the future could be much brighter than the picture painted in the SCI community, he asked himself, “What can I do”? With U2FP, that question is answered.
Donna Sullivan of Dublin, Ohio, joined the paralysis community in 2005 when her son sustained a spinal cord injury. The following year, she attended W2W; since that time she committed herself to the mission of U2FP. Her belief is whether you’re advocating for specific research or legislation to support it, individuals must first understand that a spinal cord injury is more than a chronic condition – its complications are life threatening. Her role as Project Director includes following research and developing the program for the Working 2 Walk Science & Advocacy Symposium. Her efforts bring together top international researchers and advocates to collaborate on the latest developments. She was instrumental in developing the U2FP Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and works with an international group of organizations in an effort to provide them with SAB oversight on their funding decisions. Previously, she worked as the Operations Manager for GTE/Sylvania Hospital Products Division and as an elementary school Enrichment Coordinator. Working alongside gifted researchers and determined advocates fuels her commitment to advancing a cure for spinal cord injuries.
Executive Director: Matthew Rodreick of Minneapolis, Minnesota, entered the community after his son Gabe sustained a C5 injury while body surfing in Costa Rica. After leaving his position as Emergency Department Operations Supervisor for the Fairview Health System, he and Gabe traveled the world in search of the best therapeutic options, only to end up back in Minnesota advocating for cure research. Matthew led a coalition of Minnesota SCI community advocates and researchers to leverage the state legislature in pursuit of public funding for SCI research. In 2012 he made a short documentary film featuring then Minnesota Viking punter and Twitter celebrity Chris Kluwe, spending a day in a wheelchair. The screening of “Chris Kluwe Rolls A Mile In Someone Else’s Wheels” kicked off their 2013 legislative campaign. The bill was passed in 2015 as the MN SCI/TBI Research Grant Program, and Matthew is now working with advocates in Washington and Pennsylvania to pass similar legislation. He credits U2FP and Working 2 Walk with providing the knowledge, focus and energy to see the real possibility of an end to the debilitating effects of paralysis.
Research Consultant: Christal Powell of Alliance, Nebraska owns and operates a residential real estate business and works on the family farm. She is married and has two children. Chris and her son entered the paralysis community after her son sustained a spinal cord injury in 2005. They met other members of the community in Washington D.C. at the Working 2 Walk conference in 2008. They began holding local fundraisers and advocating for research on a national level. Prior to her son’s injury, she worked as a Front Desk Manager for Heartland Pointe, LLC. Chris believes anyone advocating for spinal cord injury legislation, research and funding can make a difference in bringing regenerative medicine to the clinic as soon as possible. Chris is deeply honored to serve on a national level for Unite 2 Fight Paralysis.
Program Manager: Ryan Romine of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has worked in managerial and administrative roles for mission driven organizations for the last 15 years. He has a strong background in communications, customer service, and project management. Additionally, Ryan is a Poetry Editor for the literary journal TLR – The Literary Review. His various creative projects include a few published poems and reviews, as well as a writer and producer of short films and screenplays. A long time resident of Philadelphia, Ryan is learning to tolerate the Midwest again (he grew up here). Impressed by U2FP’s vision to end paralysis rather than simply accommodate it, Ryan is honored to lend his efforts in the comprehensive fight for a cure.
Team U2FP Director: Kathryn Mahoney of Western Springs, Illinois, was in her senior season as a gymnast at Michigan State University when she sustained a C6 spinal cord injury from a fall during practice. She returned to MSU and graduated with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering in 2013. An athlete her whole life, Kathryn craved physical activity and was soon introduced to adaptive sports. She has now been handcycling and playing wheelchair rugby for the last two years, and believes the mental and physical benefits of adaptive sports and the surrounding community are immeasurable. She also attends NextSteps Chicago, where the focus is on activity-based therapies. Kathryn is excited to share the mission of U2FP and facilitate the development of Team U2FP, which encourages runners and wheelchair athletes to support the search for a cure by racing in any event, from 5k’s to marathons. Additionally, she motivates and assists the athletes to meet their training and fundraising goals.
Advocacy Advisor: Rob Wudlick is from Excelsior, Minnesota and studied Industrial & Management Engineering at Montana State University. While living there he skied, climbed, and rafted the mountains and rivers around Bozeman, Montana. During a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon in 2011, Rob suffered a diving accident that made him a quadriplegic. Since then, he has become an effective advocate for spinal cord research and care by playing an integral part of starting the Minnesota Spinal Cord & Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program by leading government advocacy for this initiative. Wudlick also is chairman and a cofounder of Get Up Stand Up to Cure Paralysis, a local Minnesota nonprofit organization that advocates and supports SCI research and fitness. Rob is excited to be part of U2FP to help advance research and help others get engaged to make a difference. He believes that meaningful outcomes in medical research for spinal cord injury will be possible through community collaboration.
W2W Live Blog Writer: Kate Willette of Bellevue, Washington, is a writer and activist. She holds an M.Ed and a BA in mathematics, both from the University of Washington in Seattle. When her husband broke his neck skiing in the spring of 2001, she gradually became determined to use her skills to further the cause of a cure for spinal cord injury. She published a memoir (Some Things Are Unbreakable) in 2003 that has won high praise from editors and readers alike. Her articles about the state of research science and the men and women who are engaged in it have been published in the United States, Norway, and online. In recent years she’s enjoyed writing colorful, reliable, real-time narratives of U2FP events with a series of live blogs that are widely read and disseminated in the spinal cord injury community. In September of 2015 she published Don’t Call It a Miracle: The Movement to Cure Spinal Cord Injury. This book is a must-read for advocates, a lay-friendly, beautifully illustrated summary of the scientific, regulatory, and funding problems to be solved, and what you can do to speed things along.