ADVISORY COMMITTEE

LABS is led by an Advisory Committee of visionary leaders who are innovative in their thinking and actions, bold in their desire to make change, passionate about the power of sport, and truly reflective of our diverse community. The LABS 2021 Advisory Committee includes:

Victor Calise

Victor Calise

As Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, Victor Calise advocates for the disability community in all City decision-making.

Commissioner Calise chairs the Accessibility Committee of the City Building Code and leads efforts to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce through the NYC:ATWORK employment initiative. He also ensures that disability is at the forefront of the city’s emerging technologies including communication modes, autonomous vehicles, and digital accessibility.

Recognized as an expert on disability, the Commissioner frequently participates in national and international conferences. A dedicated public servant, Calise previously led efforts within the Department of Parks and Recreation to make the city’s park system—one of the most complex in the world—accessible in accordance with the Inclusive Design Guidelines.

Calise—an avid athlete—competed in the 1998 Paralympic Games as a member of the U.S. national sled hockey team.

Mary Hodge

Mary Hodge

Mary has been involved with disability sport since 1988 when she started a local team with cerebral palsy with United Cerebral Palsy of Nassau County. She was named head coach of USA Para Powerlifting (USAPP) in 2003 and High Performance Manager in 2013. She’s coached Team USA at four Paralympic Games (2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012) and was Team Leader for the past three Paralympic Games, six World Championships and five Para Pan American Games. Mary was recognized by the USOPC as Volunteer Coach of the Year in 2018 and was named Paralympic Powerlifting Coach of the Year in 2012.

Cole McKeel

Cole McKeel

Cole is currently the Director of Partnerships for Huddle Up Group, a sports tourism consulting firm. Previously, Cole served as the manager of Olympic & Paralympic Training Center sport business development for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee from 2016-2020. In this position, McKeel was responsible for generating outside revenue for the Olympic & Paralympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs, Colo. and Lake Placid, N.Y. Prior to his role with the USOPC, McKeel worked as the marketing and media assistant and diversity and inclusion champion for USA Bobsled & Skeleton, overseeing partnerships with BMW and Under Armour. McKeel serves as the Vice President of GoEmpire Group, a professional basketball athlete representation firm in Chicago. In addition, McKeel is an adjunct professor for the sport and recreation management program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Ashley Thomas

Ashley Thomas

As a competitive athlete and a believer that adapted sport changes lives in a profound way, allows me to speak, write and advocate with passion and conviction. I have seen and experienced firsthand the life changes sport creates and the independence it fosters. In 2005, I founded Bridge II Sports, which believes in the potential for all people with physical disabilities to ‘Find the Player Within’ building confidence, tenacity, and strength through the power of sport. Ranking 4th in the world, I was a proud member of the USA Paracanoe national team in 2010, ’11 and ’15.

Dr. Akilah R. Carter–Francique

Dr. Akilah R. Carter–Francique

Dr. Carter–Francique (Ph.D., University of Georgia) is the Executive Director for the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society, and Social Change (ISSSSC) at San Jose State University. She is also an Associate Professor at SJSU in the Department of African American Studies. Her scholarly endeavors and field of focus encompasses the intersection of sport, society, and social justice that is inclusive of issues of diversity, social movements, and the dynamics of social change and development. Carter-Francique served as the 2018-2019 President of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS), currently serves as a member of Laureus “Sport for Good” Research Council in the U.S., and she is the co-editor of Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Past, Present, and Persistence and Critical Race Theory: Black Athletic Experiences in the United States.

Dr. Rory Cooper

Dr. Rory Cooper

Dr. Cooper is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories a VA Rehabilitation R&D Center of Excellence in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh. He earned B.S. and M.Eng degrees in electrical engineering from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, respectively. He received his Ph.D. degree in electrical & computer engineering with a concentration in bioengineering from University of California at Santa Barbara. He is FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Professor and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, and professor of Bioengineering, Physical Med & Rehab, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. Cooper and his work have received coverage by NY Times, Washington Post, TIME, CNN, Forbes, ESPN, NBC, BMJ, Reuters, NPR, and other national and international media outlets.

Mike Mushett

Mike Mushett

Chief Executive Officer of Turnstone, Mike Mushett has devoted more than 35 years to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. He has been a national leader in the development of adaptive recreation and Paralympic sport programs at the community, national, and international levels. Mike holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a Master’s degree in Recreation & Leisure Services and holds a certificate from the Olympic Sport Leadership Program from the Northwestern University School of Management.

Headshots_Kari

Kari Miller Ortiz

Former US Army Sergeant Kari Miller lost both her legs when a car she was in was hit by a drunk driver while she was on leave from military duty in 1999. She discovered sitting volleyball after playing other wheelchair based sports including her favorite, wheelchair basketball. Through dedicated training and coaching, she made the US Paralympic Team. In 2008, she participated at the World Organization Volleyball for Disabled where she won a Bronze Medal and the same year got another Silver Medal for her participation at 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China.

During this time Kari began working for the US Paralympic Military program and was responsible for setting up the program for newly injured service members at Walter Reed, Bethesda naval, and Ft Belvoir facilities In 2009, Miller was awarded as Paralympian of the Year. In 2010, she won a Silver Medal at the Parapan American Championship. In 2011 and 2012 respectively she won three Gold Medals at ECVD Continental Cup, Parapan American Zonal Championship, and Volleyball Masters. She also got a 4th Silver Medal for her participation at 2012 Paralympic Games in London and ultimately a Gold Medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio in 2016.

Throughout her Paralympic career, Kari has also worked with multiple services to create adaptive programing and events. Kari also created and ran the community programs US Air Force wounded ill and injured program.

Kari currently works as the Manager of outreach for veterans and People of Color at Maximus.