Our Team

Board of Directors

  • Marilyn Smith - President
    Marilyn Smith - President

    Marilyn (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.

  • Barry (BA, LLB) is the Chief Development Officer of the Canadian Spinal Research Organization and the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation; he also serves as director of the American Spinal Research Organization. In 1987, Barry sustained a spinal cord injury in a diving accident, which resulted in quadriplegia. He has sat on multiple boards advocating for people with disabilities and particularly spinal cord injury research. Barry graduated from Law School in 1994 and was called to the Bar in 1996. He practiced personal injury law for over 10 years. His legal experience combined with 30 years of practical experience living with a spinal cord injury make him a formidable advocate for the disabled community. Barry has dedicated his life to assisting people living with disabilities and improving their quality of life.

  • Mike Burris
    Mike Burris

    Mike (of Colorado Springs, Colorado) received his B.A. from the University of Iowa and has an M.S. in Systems Management from the University of Southern California. Mike has more than 35 years of experience in the world of space exploration. He served as an Air Force intelligence officer from 1977-1982. After he left the Air Force, he went to work at Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) before retiring as an Assistant Vice President at the end of 2011. During his career, he worked on several space related activities such as the building of the Air Force’s Consolidated Space Operations Center, the Air Force Satellite Control Network, NASA’s X-43 hypersonic research vehicles, and the replacement for the Space Transportation System. Prior to joining the U2FP Board he served on three boards; he served 10-years as a school board member for the Lewis-Palmer School District #38 in Colorado during the 1990s, he was a member of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) Space Transportation Committee from 2004-2011, and he is currently a member of Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) Foundation Board. In July 2009 while body surfing Mike suffered a C4 incomplete SCI that, although he is ambulatory, still impacts him today. Being on the U2FP Board provides him the opportunities to advance the goals of our community and advocate for all of us to live our best possible lives.

  • Michele "Shelly" Towle
    Michele "Shelly" Towle

    Michele (of Bismark, North Dakota) is the Assistant Director of the Spinal Cord Injury Program at DP Clinical, Inc., located in Rockville, MD. Michele has 18 years of experience in SCI clinical research. She became a study coordinator starting in 1999 when she began working with spinal cord injured patients enrolled in clinical trials. Through this early experience she came to understand the impact of a spinal cord injury, not only for individuals but also for their families and communities. Michele then moved on to monitor and manage SCI clinical trials for DP Clinical since 2003. DP Clinical is a Contract Research Organization (CRO) specializing in Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Phase I-IV clinical programs for pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies. Over the years, Michele has seen many SCI clinical trials halted due to slow enrollment and the prohibitive cost, leaving SCI patients without a potentially beneficial new therapy. Research needs to succeed, and there remains a need for meaningful contribution to the efforts in spinal cord research. Michele advocates for better-designed protocols and validated efficacy tools to be used in clinical trials. Working with so many talented individuals with SCI expertise and a commitment to research, makes Michele ask, “how can I as a non-scientist help to advance research and clinical trials that will provide a breakthrough for spinal cord injuries?”

  • Alexander “Sasha” Rabchevsky (BS, PhD) is a tenured Professor of Physiology at the University of Kentucky, College of Medicine and is a core member of the Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center. He is, himself, paralyzed from the chest down as the result of a motorcycle accident in 1985 which fractured his sixth thoracic vertebrae rendering him a complete T5 paraplegic. His research efforts have ensured continued extramural funding while gaining him international recognition as a leading expert in both mitochondrial dysfunction and autonomic pathophysiology following spinal cord injury, particularly the development of a hypertensive syndrome termed autonomic dysreflexia. It is the latter condition that he himself experiences on a regular basis, and his studies have advanced our understanding of how to monitor and treat such an insidious disorder. He has and continues to serve on various study sections, both federal and private, is associate editor and reviewer of various scientific journals, and his distinct studies have been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the International Spinal Research Trust, the Paralyzed Veterans Administration, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the University of Kentucky.


  • Matthew Rodreick - Executive Director
    Matthew Rodreick - Executive Director

    Matthew (of Minneapolis, Minnesota) entered the SCI 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.

  • Donna Sullivan - Special Projects Director
    Donna Sullivan - Special Projects Director

    Donna (of Dublin, OH) 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.

  • Christal Powell - Research Consultant
    Christal Powell - Research Consultant

    Christal (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 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.

  • Kathryn Mahoney - Team U2FP Director
    Kathryn Mahoney - Team U2FP Director

    Kathryn (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. In 2017, she completed her M.S. in Business Analytics. 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.

  • Jake Beckstrom - C.A.N. Manager
    Jake Beckstrom - C.A.N. Manager

    Jake Beckstrom is from Watertown, Minnesota. At the age of 16, Jake had a diving accident in a backyard pool and sustained a C4-6 spinal cord injury. A lifelong love of hunting, fishing, and the outdoors led him to pursue a path of environmental sustainability. He received a B.S. in Environmental Science at Southwest Minnesota State University, and in 2015, he received a law degree and master's degree in Environmental Law and Policy at Vermont Law School. Jake is eager to use his experience in public policy and advocacy to work with the Cure Advocacy Network to lobby for smarter spinal cord injury research funding and find a cure for paralysis.

  • Ryan Romine - Program Manager
    Ryan Romine - Program Manager

    Ryan (of Minneapolis, Minnesota) has worked in managerial and administrative roles at mission driven organizations for the last 15 years. He has a strong background in communications, customer service, and project management. 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.

  • Rob Wudlick - Advocacy Advisor
    Rob Wudlick - Advocacy Advisor

    Rob (of Excelsior, Minnesota) 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.

  • Kate Willette - Writer & CureCast host
    Kate Willette - Writer & CureCast host

    Kate (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.