Last week's sprint eliminator swim meet went OK. It wasn't my best meet and I didn't even make it back to the second round in any event but any competition is good competition so I'm OK with it. The best part of the meet was meeting an eleven year old girl who was a bilateral below the knee amputee. Her and her dad had come to watch us swim and learn more about the Paralympics. Some of my teammates and I talked with her for a while and hopefully offered enough insight and enthusiasm for the sport and U.S. Paralympics that she will give it a shot. One of the best parts of being a Paralympic athlete is inspiring younger kids with disabilities that they can still get into competitive sports whether it's at a community or an elite level. Hopefully I will see this girl at a future Paralympic meet.
haven't mentioned in my past blogs how I lost my leg and figured I should probably do that as some of you readers may have an interest in it. Back in 2002 I was commissioned into the U.S. Army as a 2nd LT after completing ROTC at the University of Colorado at Boulder. My love for our country is what got me to that point. I became part of the Transportation Corps and was eventually assigned to the 1st Cavalry division out of Ft. Hood, TX. In March 2004 my unit was deployed to Iraq where I was a convoy commander bringing supplies to and from various bases. On April 13, 2004 my vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb which led to the loss of my left leg. I was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for a year of rehab. After too many infections and too many surgeries I stand today as an above the knee amputee on my left side.
I started swimming during my rehab. I loved it because I didn't have to wear a prosthetic leg and could get to and from the pool with my crutches. I learned of the Paralympics not too long after that and I knew immediately that I wanted to give it a shot. I started on a club swim team in 2005 in MN and my times gradually improved. I fell in love with the sport of swimming (even the smell of chlorine) and I became dedicated to it. My husband and I moved to Chicago a year ago and not long after that I was offered the opportunity to train here at the Olympic Training Center. I was allowed here under the VP3 program which is a program for wounded veterans that are Paralympic hopefuls. My times improved drastically once I moved out here and I got fast enough to land a spot on the team. It was one of my proudest moments and I couldn't be happier about being able to wear the U.S. uniform and represent our country in Beijing.
I am asked a lot how I have been able to come so far in such a short amount of time. There are many people I have to thank for helping me along the way and getting me to this point. My husband, parents and friends have been with me every step of the way, but there are certain organizations that cater to wounded veterans and making sure they still live their life how they want. Through these organizations I got back into competitive sports through the NYC marathon and a few triathlons not long after I was injured and that restored the competitive spirit back in me. I want to name a few organizations here just as a way to say thanks to them. They are amazing organizations with amazing people who run them and I encourage you to check them out: Wounded Warrior Project, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and Scheck and Siress Orthotics and Prosthetics.
The team and I are leaving tomorrow to go to Victoria, Canada for the CanAm Games. It will be a pretty big meet and lots of my competition will be there. In the 400 free I am currently ranked 8th in the world and 5 of the top 8 swimmers will be there. It makes me a little nervous because of course I want to do well against them. We have done a lot of training last week and so far this week, and our muscles will all be a little tired and sore.
That being said, although I would love to see improvement, I will be happy if I simply maintain my times. I am doing the 200 fly for the first time and am very, very nervous about it. I seem to have on and off days when it comes to the butterfly and on an off day it's not pretty... I'm trying to find a way to make my off days, on days, but I haven't figured that out quite yet. I will be happy to finish the 200 fly and hopefully I'll be surprised at my time.
Two of my teammates are nominated for this years ESPY award through ESPN. It awards excellence in sports. If you haven't already, you should vote for them. If you go to http://promo.espn.go.com/espn/specialsection/espys2008/ and register you can vote for them there. They are Philip Scholz and Susan Beth Scott and they are in the categories best female or male athlete with a disability.
Melissa Stockwell is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This blog was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.
Photos: Courtesy of Melissa Stockwell. 1. (top) One of my first swim meets, 2. (middle) My husband Dick and me in Iraq, 3. (bottom) Me in Iraq