FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – It’s been almost eleven years since Melissa Stockwell became part of U.S. history. She’s the first female soldier to lose a limb in active combat. Stockwell is now a world-class paratriathlete. Friday night, she served as the keynote speaker at the “Abilities Abound” event in Fort Wayne.
The program celebrates the accomplishments of people in the community with disabilities.
“This is public education. People with disabilities still are far behind most other folks in society. It’s not because people wake up in the morning and think how can they hurt a person with a disability, they’re often just not aware of what’s going on. This is awareness. Don’t make assumptions about someone based on their label. We’ve done that to other folks- people from different races, we’ve done that to women, and every time we do that, it’s wrong. It’s the same with people with disabilities. Judge them by their character, not by their disability or label that comes with it,” event organizer David Nelson said.
Melissa Stockwell said she always dreamed of serving her country. She recalled decking out her childhood bedroom in American flag-everything from the curtains to the bedspread. Joining the army her sophomore year of college just made sense. Melissa had only been in Iraq for three weeks when her convoy hit a roadside bomb. She woke up in a Baghdad emergency room to find her left leg gone.
“My story is titled from Baghdad to Beijing and Beyond, and it’s really about how I lost my leg over in Iraq about eleven years ago, and then overcame something I never thought I would have to overcome,” Stockwell said.
More than a decade later, Melissa has gone on to serve her country in a different way- as a paralympian. She swam in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. After that, Melissa started competing in triathlons. She’s now training for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The new mom of a three-month-old son, Dallas, said it’s a busy life, but one she wouldn’t trade.
“I I spend a lot of my weeks swimming, biking, and running and hopefully I will have a good year competitively and you’ll see me in Rio,” Stockwell said.
Stockwell has also started her own non-profit called Dare 2 Tri. The Chicago-based group helps get athletes with disabilities into the sport of triathlon.
“We provide coaching, training, equipment, anything that it takes to get someone to the starting line and then to the finish line to show them what they are capable of, and we truly are one person inspiring many and it’s pretty incredible,” Stockwell said.
She hopes her story shows people how to embrace challenges and as she said, “make your difficulties desirable.”
“There is no dream too big and to believe in yourself and surround yourself with people that love you and care about you and that life is good regardless of what it throws at you,” Stockwell said.
During the question and answer session after Stockwell’s presentation, someone asked her if she wished she could have her leg back. Her response- “Nope, as cheesy as it sounds, my life is so much better with this piece of metal.”
To read more on Stockwell’s background and story, click here.