In 2004, Melissa Stockwell was deployed in Iraq when a roadside bomb exploded while she was leading a convoy in Baghdad. Stockwell lost her left leg in the accident. She won a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for her bravery and service before retiring from the military in 2005.
Through her resiliency, commitment, and dedication, the University of Colorado graduate went from being the first female soldier to lose a limb in that war to the first Iraq War veteran to compete in the Paralympics. In an interview with Kyodo News, Stockwell shared how her athletic journey changed her,
“Sports truly gave me my life back after losing my leg. I think they are incredibly important for anyone, but especially someone who is trying to figure out what they can still do after a traumatic event like losing a limb.”
Stockwell competed in three events during the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. She didn’t medal, but her teammates gave her the honor of carrying the flag for the United States during closing ceremonies. After Beijing, Stockwell shifted her focus toward triathlons where she became a three-time world champion on her way to capturing a bronze medal in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. She shared her big picture perspective with Forbes magazine,
“I often think about the fact that I’m lucky to have my life. I think about other soldiers who have it worse or have lost their lives. Honestly, that keeps you going. Wanting to do it for other soldiers, to do it for them, helps a lot.”
The mother of two is now focusing on making it to the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo, training as much as five hours a day. Stockwell loves to compete, but it’s not about winning medals or gaining attention for herself. She told the Japan Times,
“I want to show the world that athletes with disabilities can perform at the highest level,” she said. “I want to prove that having a disability doesn’t have to stop you from doing the things you want to do.”
Photo credit: Melissa Stockwell’s Instagram