Kevin Stickelman officially becomes the National Ability Center’s CEO |

Kevin Stickelman officially becomes the National Ability Center’s CEO

The National Ability Center announced Thursday that Kevin Stickelman, pictured in August 2018, would officially become its chief executive officer after months of occupying the interim role.
National Ability Center/Bailey Edelstein

Kevin Stickelman has been the head of the National Ability Center for a while, but now, it’s official.

The NAC announced Thursday that Stickelman was named the adaptive sports nonprofit’s new chief executive officer after months of serving in the role in an interim capacity after Gail Barille stepped down in August 2018.

Stickelman has been with the NAC for three years and was its chief operating officer until stepping up in the interim. He said the promotion solidifies the direction he wants the nonprofit to take — a “measured” growth rate, an expanded geographical footprint with programs that take advantage of southern Utah’s landscapes and planning for the potential return of the Olympics.

“For me, that’s an exciting place to be,” he said. “Expanding our reach across the United States more than it currently is.”

As a nearly lifelong amputee and athlete, the 41-year-old Stickelman has seen and experienced an enormous amount of change in adaptive sports and accessibility over the decades.

Growing up in Leavenworth, Kansas, with a leg that was amputated below the knee at birth, he played sports the entire time. He didn’t think to do otherwise — he had competition at home.

“I learned how to walk, and run, and play soccer and basketball … on a prosthetic leg,” he said. “I had two younger brothers who I needed to get the best of in everything I could.”

On the bluffs across the Missouri River from his hometown, he fell in love with skiing at Snow Creek, a small ski hill in Weston, Missouri, 30 miles north of Kansas City, Missouri. Eventually, he made his way to Park City in 1999 and became a certified ski instructor.

He says he still relishes seeing a skier make their first turns after a life-changing physical trauma.

“To me, it’s amazing to be here and see those lives that get changed every day,” he said. “To be part of it is something special, I think.”

He hopes to embody the NAC’s goals as someone who has always lived with a disability, but didn’t think about how it could stop him from thriving.

The incoming CEO also said that the NAC needs to grow, but not at an unsustainable speed. Part of that growth would be an increased emphasis on training and education, as well as expanding programs such as mountain biking and rafting trips through southern Utah.

“There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to drive our reach and impact across the populations that we work with,” Stickelman said.

Stickelman also said he plans to keep an eye on developments relating to the Salt Lake City 2030 Winter Olympic bid. In the 28 years between the 2002 Games and the potential future event, the adaptive sports landscape has changed so much that he sees an even larger role for the NAC in hosting the world.

“We have grown exponentially, almost, so we’re positioned better right now … I think that we just have grown and our influence has become more diversified across that Paralympic movement,” he said.

And as adaptive athletes become more prominent, he sees an important opportunity for the NAC to become a national voice.

“When you start seeing corporate money and major marketing efforts showcasing and advocating for the same thing that the NAC does … that starts to become a game changer,” he said.

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