June 24, 2008, 12:41 p.m. (ET)

The count down has officially begun, as it is less than 12 weeks until the Paralympic Games begin in Beijing. For those unfamiliar with the Paralympics let me explain... First, and foremost, the Paralympics are NOT the Special Olympics as the two are commonly regarded as the same event. The Special Olympics is a fantastic organization for athletes with intellectual/mental disabilities and they have games that are held every year. The Paralympics are for athletes with physical disabilities, like me, and they happen every four years in the same location and venues as the Olympics, two weeks after the Olympics end.

This year the Paralympics take place in Beijing Sep. 6th - 17th.  You can learn more about the Paralympics at http://paralympics.usoc.org/

In my sport of swimming there are 13 disability class and we race against those with a similar disability. For example, I am an above the knee amputee classified as an S9 and I compete against those that are a single amputee, whether it be an arm or a leg. Other class include multiple limb amputees, dwarfism, visually impaired swimmers, paraplegics, paralyzed arms...you name it, we have it.... The classifications are different for different sports but I like to stay in my swimming bubble and don't know much about other sports classifications.

I am a resident athlete at the OTC (Olympic Training Center) in Colorado Springs, CO. I train here with 8 of my teammates who are all making the trip to Beijing. We had our trials in Minneapolis in April and we have a team of 38 swimmers heading over there, 18 women and 20 men. Most of the swimmers train at home with a club team and we all see each other either at swim meets or training camps. We have an information/training camp later this week and the rest of our team will be coming in for that.

Our training here at the OTC has become especially intense these past couple weeks. It is less than 12 weeks to the games so it is time to give it all we've got. We have a total of nine pool practices a week, 3 weight training sessions and 2 sessions of dry land that include abs, medicine balls, etc... In any given week we can swim anywhere from 35,000 to 50,000 meters. That's 23 to 33 miles for those that are wondering. And let me tell you, by the end of the week, we are all ready for Sunday, our day off, and some much needed relaxing and letting our muscles rest.

My main events are the 400 free and the 100 fly. I dropped a lot of time at trials to make the team but I need to have a repeat performance in Beijing to be in medal contention. Before I made the team I wasn't too concerned about a medal, I just wanted a spot on the team.

But now that I've made the team a medal is the obvious next step and I am really, really hoping all my training pays off and I come home with a medal around my neck.

But medals aside, when it really comes down to it, there are two reasons I come up with when asked why I want to compete in the Paralympics.

#1. The opportunity to wear the U.S.A. uniform and represent the great country that we live in.

#2. To be inspired and motivated by all my teammates around me, all who have overcome enormous obstacles in their lives to be at such an elite level of athletics.

 

GO USA!

 

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.

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