Prepare to be inspired. In 2004, Melissa Stockwell was a second lieutenant in the United States Army. A month after the then-23-year-old deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, she was in a vehicle that was struck by a roadside bomb. The accident took Stockwell’s left leg from above the knee and also made her the first American female soldier to lose a limb in the war.
Stockwell committed herself to rehab, through swimming, and fell in love with it.
“I learned about the Paralympics probably four months after I was injured,” Stockwell tells Us Weekly. “I never knew about them before, which is crazy because it’s such a big part of my life now. So I heard about it and I heard it was for someone with a disability and here I was with a new disability. I had dreamed of going to the Olympics as a gymnast when I was younger, so it was kind of like I had a second chance. As soon as I heard about it, it was immediate – somehow I needed to become a Paralympian. Swimming just kind of seemed like the right fit, so I decided to give it a shot.”
Stockwell competed in Beijing for swimming in 2008, and left disappointed with her results.
“I came out of my biggest athletic event with like a participation medal. It’s not really what I had hoped for, but it’s what happened. It’s part of the story,” the 35-year-old explains. “Then, in 2009, I did my first triathlon and I loved the challenge of it. I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon and just became passionate about it really early on.”
The mom of 16-month-old son Dallas found a new sport to love — but explains it comes with a unique set of challenges associated with the different prosthetics.
“There’s a biking-specific one, and a sports-specific running leg – so part of the race is switching them on and off – and nothing for swimming. Part of the race is how quickly you can get them on and off. So if I don’t get my leg off or on quick enough, then I could not place as well,” she says. “You’ve definitely got to practice that. I have it down to under a minute!”
Her prosthetics are one of many things in life that display her incredible patriotism.
“My prosthetic is red, white and blue. Everything is red, white and blue,” she says, laughing. Her most unique display of patriotism of all, though, is on her hand. “My engagement ring is a diamond and the red and the blue were my wedding rings.”
To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Olympics begin on August 5, 2016, on NBC’s networks. The Paralympics begin on September 7, 2016.
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