Paralympian, bronze medalist and Iraqi war veteran Melissa Stockwell’s biggest challenge comes at home.
Melissa Stockwell had a dream as a kid that her parents thought would eventually fade away.
“Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said I want to be in the army,” Stockwell said. “My parents kinda thought that was a phase I was passing through, never actually thought it would lead to anything.”
Turns out it was not a “phase.” Stockwell signed up for the army while in college at the University of Colorado shortly after September 11, 2001. Three years later she led a convoy through Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded, resulting in the loss of her leg.
Recovery was at Walter Reed Medical Center.
“I look around and I see other soldiers who are missing two legs,” Stockwell said. “They are missing both legs and an arm, they can’t see anymore. I’m like, oh man, I am one of the lucky ones.”
That positive attitude eventually led Stockwell to pursue another childhood dream, represent her country in the Olympics as a gymnast. Because of the injury, she was forced to pivot first to swimming in 2008 in Beijing, before eventually becoming a triathlete.
“I mean, why not?” Stockwell said. “Three sports instead of one on the same course as able-bodied athletes, I just really fell in love with the sport from the beginning and just became pretty passionate about it.”
Melissa Stockwell used the extra time before Tokyo Olympics to her benefit
Pretty successful, too. There have been three world championships in 2010 along with a bronze medal from 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
Tokyo 2021 is next. Stockwell was originally not overly excited about the extra year of preparation but has taken advantage of the time.
“I’m faster now than I’ve ever been,” Stockwell said. “Here we are four months out and I’m feeling better than I felt a year ago.”
The biggest challenge for Stockwell leading up to the games is not in the pool, on the bike, or a lengthy run, but rather at home with her two children ages three and six.
“Becoming a mother has been probably the biggest challenge of my life,” Stockwell said. “Wanting to show my kids it doesn’t matter if you look a little bit different you can still get out there and have big dreams wanting my kids to grow up and be kind and have compassion, respect for others.”
Being out in public is not always easy even for an extrovert like Stockwell who does public speaking at universities and corporations. There is a little extra attention that isn’t always pleasant.
“I’ve gotten used to it,” Stockwell said. “The stares at the grocery store, kids saying mommy mommy look at her leg she’s a robot it just comes with the territory. I’ve learned a lot of times if I wear shorts people want to ask about it. I’m proud of how I lost my leg. I love telling people, especially kids.”
Stockwell hopes the entire world will staring at her this summer with a gold medal around her neck. She is ready for Tokyo 2021.
Melissa Stockwell is a recipient of the Athletes for Good Fund, which celebrates the work of Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls who are partnering with charitable causes. As the co-founder of Dare2Tri, Melissa helps to enhance the lives of people with physical disabilities and visual impairments through sport.