Molly Quinn plans to combine her love of sports with her knowledge of marketing and philanthropy to help the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes grow.
Quinn recently was named the first chief executive officer of the association, which is based in Colorado Springs. The nonprofit empowers blind or visually impaired Americans by connecting them with sports, recreation and physical activities, serving
“I’ve always had such a passion for athletics and the people who participate or compete in them, or who become Olympic or Paralympic athletes,” Quinn said. “The USABA was looking for their first CEO, and I had an opportunity to participate in one of the sports that they lead, called goalball, when I visited the [U.S. Olympic & Paralympic] training center last fall.
“So, when this position came up, I thought, ‘This is me, this is where I need to be.’ I want to lead this team and I really wanted to be a part of something bigger that involved the Olympic and Paralympic movement.”
Quinn has worked in sports marketing, sales and the nonprofit sector for more than 20 years. Her first triathlon almost 30 years ago engaged not only her love of sports, but also her interest in the world of sporting events.
“I fell in love not only with the discipline of doing true sports, but I fell in love with the event itself — the preparation, setting a goal, coming across the finish line,” she said.
She comes to Colorado Springs most recently from Memphis, Tennessee, where she served as vice president of fitness and endurance partnerships with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
At St. Jude, she identified and partnered with key global brands to diversify revenue streams. One of her major accomplishments was re-inventing the charity’s largest fundraising event, where she elevated the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend from about 16,000 participants raising about $9.5 million to approximately 26,000 raising about $13 million.
In her personal time, Quinn is a swimmer who competes in open water swim competitions. She is also a cyclist and practices yoga.
Quinn spoke with the Business Journal about the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, how the nonprofit has been impacted by COVID-19 and her plans for the association as its first CEO.
Talk a little about the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes and what you do.
It’s such an incredible organization. Our vision is that every American who is blind or visually impaired will lead a healthy lifestyle by participating in sports, recreation or physical activity. Through sports and recreational activities, USABA provides life-changing opportunities to as many as 4,000 participants annually. Sports include track and field, skiing, judo, tandem cycling, powerlifting, soccer and goalball, a team sport developed for the blind that has evolved to a global sport played at its highest level in the Paralympic Games. Our partners, the Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is the U.S. Paralympic Training Site for goalball.
As the new Chief Executive Officer, what are your goals for the association?
The goals are really to be able to work with the board, our staff, our membership and stakeholders to develop and implement a very comprehensive strategic plan, so that we can increase membership and expand the great programs and events that we provide to blind and visually impaired athletes across the country. And I want to make sure that we continue to support our men’s and women’s goalball teams that have qualified to compete in the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo.
How has your organization been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic this year?
Like most sport organizations, we’ve had to pivot in order to provide activities and experiences. So, one of the things we did was we took our national fitness challenge virtual. That’s a way for athletes across the country to use a Fitbit in order to track their steps, their miles, their 5Ks. We logged over 21,000 miles in the month of May alone in tracking our participants. We’ve pivoted and gone virtual so that we can still provide that experience to our athletes.
The other piece that we’re doing is coming up in October. National Blind Sports Day is typically held the first Saturday in October. Normally, we hold in-person events, but what we’ve done this year is we’ve created a week-long event, National Blind Sports Week. This will include webinars and online sessions with Paralympic athletes and coaches.
Prior to serving at the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, you served at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. What are some of the most valuable skills that you learned there that you feel will be beneficial to you in your new capacity?
Strategy. Really making sure that we have a comprehensive strategy and tools and resources. The experiences that I had at St. Jude taught me [to] bring together a team so that we can figure out how to grow our revenue and our participation. We’re off to a great trajectory here from that standpoint.
It also taught me about fundraising and being able to think outside the box from a fundraising perspective, like having these virtual experiences. We’re not so much raising money from that standpoint, but we’re still able to provide experience and engagement. That engagement is really key in an organization like ours.
I also learned about partnerships and sponsorships. I have years and years of expertise in building partnerships. For a corporate wellness program, there are four things that companies really enjoy — participation, fundraising for a great cause, coming out and volunteering, and cheering and supporting an individual or a team.
You enjoy fitness yourself as a swimmer and cyclist. Why are sports and fitness important to you?
One, the discipline; two, it really keeps you focused; and three, it allows you to participate in events and meet people from various parts of the country and from various walks of life. There is just a uniqueness from that standpoint.
One of the things that I think a lot about and that I’ve thought about since I’ve gotten into the event business is that doing something good for yourself is just as important as doing something good for somebody else. Athletics and events have taught and shaped who I am and how I lead from a business perspective.