As athletes all over the world are preparing for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Melissa Stockwell is waiting to hear if she will once again represent her country in the Paralympics later this year.
“It can’t come soon enough,” says Stockwell, who competed in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Bejing as a swimmer, but now is vying to be on the triathlon team in Rio — marking the first time the triathlon will be featured in the Paralympic Games. “I will continue to train as hard as I can staying positive that I will be in Rio. I will wait until July 8 when they announce the team, and then I hope to race in Worlds at the end of July and then in Rio in September.”
It has been a long, but rewarding road for Stockwell, a former Army officer who lost her leg in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq in 2004. “Being at Walter Reed really put things into perspective for me,” she says. “I looked around and s
aw so many others who had lost so much more than I had — I was one of the lucky ones.”
Stockwell says she chose to accept the loss of her leg early on, instead focusing on the things she was able to do and to test her limits. An aspiring gymnast when she was younger, she turned to swimming and worked her way onto the Paralympic team in 2008.
After the games in Beijing, Stockwell was invited to compete in a triathlon in California by the Challenge Athletes Foundation. “Like a lot of people, I thought triathletes were crazy!” she says. “But I finished my first triathlon and just fell in love with the sport. I loved the challenge of doing all three sports, and it turns out, I wasn’t so bad at it.”
Stockwell became part of the national team and won a few world championships along the way. She became so entrenched in the triathlon community, she started Dare2Tri, a nonprofit based in Chicago that helps other athletes with disabilities get involved in the sport. “Not everyone wants to be an elite athlete,” she says. “It’s more about showing someone what they’re capable of.”
Along the way, Melissa had her son, Dallas Patrick in 2014. By 2015, she was back in the thick of things, but admits facing hurdles that had nothing to do with her injury. “Coming back after having a baby was no easy feat,” she says.
But come back she did, and now she hopes to join the Paralympic triathlon team in Rio in her “new” sport. This year’s Paralympic Games in Rio will feature 23 sports with athletes from 176 countries, and kicks off September 7 — just a few weeks after the closing ceremony for the Olympic Games there.
Stockwell never loses sight of her time in the military, and says she enjoys staying a part of the wounded warrior community. “It may be a smaller community,” she says, “but we’ve all been through difficult times and know what it’s like.”
Visit Stockwell’s website to follow her journey, both this year and beyond.