She Serves

Wounded Veteran-Turned-Paralympian Inspires Others Through Power Of Choice


Melissa Stockwell’s new book, The Power of Choice, tells an incredible story of a young woman’s resilience.

Stockwell, an Iraqi war vet turned para-triathlete, always knew that she wanted to join the Army from a young age. In 2002, her childhood ambition became a reality, as she was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. In 2004, she was deployed with the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad, Iraq. It was here that her life would be changed forever.

As a platoon leader and convoy commander, Stockwell found herself in a routine convoy traveling between bases on April 13, 2004. However, just 10 minutes into the ride that day, her vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. The explosion rocked Stockwell’s Humvee and badly damaged her left leg, eventually leading to its amputation. The incident made her the first American woman in the Iraqi War to lose a limb in active combat. A devastating injury to say the least, but Stockwell took the incident in stride.

“I’ve always been a pretty optimistic person,” Stockwell explained.

Several infections and 15 surgeries later, Melissa Stockwell took her first steps in her prosthetic leg 52 days after the explosion. Quickly, Stockwell was inspired to help out others in her position.

She returned to Minnesota and attended the Prosthetics Practitioner Program at Century College, where she was able to become a certified prosthetist. Additionally, Stockwell started serving on the board of directors for the Wounded Warrior Project in 2005.

It was with the Wounded Warrior Project that Stockwell began participating in sports as part of her rehabilitation. The organization took her and a group of other wounded veterans on a ski trip in Colorado, which Stockwell says did wonders in building her confidence again.

“It got me going as far as knowing I could still do the things I liked to do,” Stockwell said of the ski trip.

Her use of athletics for rehab eventually inspired Melissa to take sports more seriously. She focused on swimming, as she could comfortably swim without having to wear her prosthetic. Stockwell started to set her sights on the Paralympics, looking to become the first Iraqi War Veteran to qualify.

A few years later, she did just that, earning her spot on the U.S. Swim Team for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. Stockwell competed in the 100 freestyle, 400 freestyle and the 100 butterfly, and was even selected to carry the American flag in the event’s closing ceremonies.

After her run in the 2008 Paralympic Games, Stockwell began competing in paratriathlon races, winning a gold medal at the 2010 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships. She qualified for the Paralympic games again in 2016, this time winning a bronze medal in the paratriathlon event.

Stockwell’s The Power of Choice highlights her incredible journey, from losing her leg in Iraq, to winning a medal in the Paralympics. Perhaps more importantly, the book dives deep into the Purple Heart recipient’s mindset, taking a look at how she was able to overcome extraordinary circumstances.

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