Melissa Stockwell has just completed a paratriathlon in Daytona, Florida. It was a rare chance to measure herself against her peers while waiting for the Paralympics to happen.
In 2019, Melissa and her husband, Brian, moved the family from Chicago to Colorado Springs to train for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. There, she would be 40 years old, competing against younger, elite para-athletes. Furthermore, she was now a mother of two; her rivals would have more time and energy to train, having no diapers to change.
When the pandemic forced the postponement of the Games until 2021, she could have relented to age and motherhood. Yet Melissa soldiered on, undaunted, willing to keep up the effort for another year.
After all, it wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened.
In 2004, Melissa was deployed to Iraq as an Army officer in the transportation corps. She had been in country for only three weeks when her Humvee was hit by an IED.
When she awakened, Melissa had become the first female in the Army to lose a limb in Iraq.
Her time in recovery at Walter Reed was transformational: “I couldn’t feel sorry for myself,” she says. “All I had to do was look around to realize how lucky I was because I only lost one leg.” Paralympian John Register came to recruit athletes to train for the Paralympic Games. Melissa had dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast as a young girl, but she says, “it wasn’t until I lost my leg that I had opportunities to do these things that I didn’t think I would ever do with two legs.”
She made her first U.S. Paralympic team in 2008 as a swimmer. Switching to paratriathlon, she was World Champion in 2010, 2011, and again in 2012. After motherhood, she won a silver and a bronze in 2013 and 2015, respectively. She took home a bronze medal from the 2016 Rio Games.
Melissa is in demand as a coach and motivational speaker. She cofounded a nonprofit, Dare2tri, that gets others with physical disabilities into the sport of triathlon. She and Brian started a new business, Tolsma/Stockwell Prosthetics.
Like putting out a fire with gasoline, Melissa’s loss acted as an accelerant.
It’s almost as if it wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened.