Melissa Stockwell on the 2021 Paralympics and Her Future

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USA's Melissa Stockwell crosses the line to finish fifth in the Women's PTS2 Triathlon at the Odaiba Marine Park during day four of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in Japan. Picture date: Saturday August 28, 2021. (Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Melissa Stockwell did not fairly know what the consequence can be when she readied herself on the Tokyo Paralympic triathlon course, getting ready to compete in her third-ever Games. Regardless, she was glad — and beat the odds — to be there. Half a decade prior, at Rio 2016, she gained a bronze medal. Now, a motorcycle accident that fractured her back eight weeks earlier than the Paralympics meant that Stockwell anticipated her efficiency would not be her quickest. “It was just more about doing everything I could to have the best race that I could have to be proud of it,” she informed POPSUGAR.

“The doctor had told me, though, ‘It’s the best place to break the back. And there’s a possibility that you could still compete in Tokyo.’ I kind of took that mindset and ran with it,” Stockwell, 41, defined of her damage. The perseverance it required to push by way of was a well-known feeling, too. Losing her leg when stationed overseas in Iraq 17 years in the past primarily ready her for this adversity, she mentioned, noting: “Losing a leg and breaking a back are very different, but they’re still injuries that you don’t expect that kind of come out of nowhere.”

Stockwell, who was additionally a flag bearer at this yr’s Paralympic opening ceremony, ended up fifth in the PTS2 Paralympic ladies’s triathlon occasion. However, smiling mid-race regardless of the undeniable fact that she may inform a podium end was out of attain counted as a victory in itself, she mentioned. She wasn’t positive she may even run the whole 5K portion, and when she did, this was one other win for her.

After her efficiency, Stockwell said on the Olympic Channel broadcast that there was “no point in not believing” she may get better in time for Tokyo. Being an athlete her complete life — she did gymnastics by way of highschool, then competed in her first Paralympics for swimming at Beijing 2008, adopted by second (2016) and third (2021) Paralympic appearances in triathlon — set her up for this forward-looking and decided mentality, she mentioned. “I’ve learned if you believe that you can do something, that you can surprise yourself by what you’re able to do.” And, by way of Stockwell’s journey of switching athletic paths from strictly swimming to triathlon, she realized folks do not give themselves sufficient credit score for what they’re able to attaining. That’s a lesson she typically shares together with her two youngsters: “Don’t tell yourself you can’t do something until you try it.”

Stockwell is a model ambassador for Chapstick, which is definitely promoting restricted version American Flag sticks (made with the unique system, Stockwell’s favourite) in assist of United States troops: particularly the nonprofit Operation Gratitude. American flags had been an enormous a part of certainly one of Stockwell’s proudest moments as an athlete, so the initiative, she mentioned, is becoming.

“I’ve learned if you believe that you can do something, that you can surprise yourself by what you’re able to do.”

Back when she gained her triathlon bronze medal in Rio, Stockwell’s teammates Allysa Seely and Hailey Danz claimed gold and silver (they every defended these titles in Tokyo). The Rio race so occurred to be on Sept. 11, which made this USA sweep much more important, she mentioned. “It’ll forever go down as one of the greatest moments of my life. . . . All of us up there, three American flags going up, just kind of everything it took to get there,” she described. “Showing the world that we’re the United States and we’re going to get out there and show what we can do. Showing how much ability is in a disability.”

When Stockwell thinks about her future in sports activities, her trajectory is not clear. When we spoke at the starting of the month, shortly following her return from Tokyo, she was nonetheless processing her expertise and mentioned she needed to focus on being a mother. She lately reiterated that on Instagram, writing, “As far as athletics? I will always be an athlete, that’s a sure bet. But I think I need a little more time to digest the past five years and figure out where I’m headed next with it. Paris 2024? Another Ironman? Being content with being a weekend warrior? Or maybe just sitting around eating all the ice cream. I don’t need to decide right now and that gives me some solace. But whatever is next will be hard to top what’s come before. But I’ll sure give it a shot.”

Becoming a Paralympian, Stockwell informed POPSUGAR, is surreal, and when you compete in your first Games, that title stays at all times. “I remember my coach in Beijing, right after I swam, I didn’t do very well athletically, but he said, ‘It’s knowing you’re a Paralympian forever. No one can ever take that away from you,'” she recalled. “And that stuck with me.”