– War Veteran, Professional Paratriathlete, and Motivational Speaker –
“Don’t be afraid to get out there and try something new. Who knows, you might find a new passion!”
This is the amazing story of Melissa Stockwell who was born in Grand Haven, MI., a proud American Citizen, and once an aspiring gymnast who dreamed of the Olympics. Even though Melissa has always been athletic, she had no idea that her greatest athletic triumphs would come after she woke up in the Baghdad ER in early 2004. She’s always loved her country, always been positive, and enjoyed decorating her room with American flags since she was young. She wanted to join the Army at a young age, and always liked playing sports in high school, in Eden Prairie, Minn.
In 2002, Melissa graduated from the University of Colorado and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army as part of the Transportation Corps. On March 2004, she deployed with the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad, Iraq.
When she arrived in Baghdad in 2004, she was a proud platoon leader and convoy commander, proud to wear the Army uniform. On April 13, 2004, she was on a routine convoy riding on Route Irish, also known as IED alley. They left their base near the airport, bound for the Green Zone. 10 minutes into the ride, her vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, which ultimately resulted in the loss of her left leg above the knee giving her the title of the first woman to ever lose a limb in active combat.
Melissa got to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to start that process of moving forward, realizing immediately that she was one of the lucky ones considering she had three good limbs; her mind, her eyesight and she was alive. It was then she made a promise to live her life for those that didn’t make it back and who gave the ultimate sacrifice. She was a lucky girl, and a proud American soldier.
The days turned into weeks and those into months. Too many surgeries, too many infections, but the constant knowledge and reassurance that things would be OK. Melissa took her first steps on her prosthetic leg 52 days after she lost her real one. A day that reassured her that she would walk again and the assurance that she would once again be independent. But as a lifelong athlete, Melissa wanted more. An aspiring young gymnast who dreamt of the Olympics, she was looking for something bigger. Once an athlete, always an athlete.
Multiple organizations helped Melissa realize that not only could she still be athletic, but she could do things she never imagined doing with both her legs. Thanks to the Wounded Warrior Project, she skied down the ski slopes of Breckenridge, Colorado on one leg proving to her that there were no limits. Achilles’ Freedom team gave her the chance to hand cycle the NYC marathon in 2005, one that she would go back and run years later. The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), invited her to do a triathlon with Operation Rebound, and as she crossed that finish line, she felt invincible, like she could do anything. It was a life changing couple of months and the start of a life lived through sports.
In early 2005, John Register from the United States Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Military and Veteran Program came to Walter Reed to present on the Paralympic Games. The worlds second biggest sporting event after the Olympics, and one that as an athlete with a disability could bring you to the world’s biggest athletic stage, representing your country and showing the world what you were capable of. In 2005, with a Purple Heart and bronze star, the hard work began. Melissa knew that in 2008 there would be a Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, held just weeks after the Olympic Games in the same venues. And a dream was born.
After Beijing Melissa turned to the sport of Paratriathlon. She has been part of the Paratriathlon national team for the past three years and is a 3X Paratriathlon World Champion in the TRI2 division. She was named as the female Paratriathlete of the year for two consecutive years and was nominated twice for an ESPY award for female athlete with a disability.
She recently completed her first Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride, and a full marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run. Melissa now hopes to compete in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio when Paratriathlon makes its debut. In 2007, Melissa also completed the prosthetic practitioner program at Century College in Minnesota where she learned to fit other amputees with artificial limbs. She currently works as a certified prosthetist at Scheck and Siress Prosthetics in Chicago. She is also a level 1 certified triathlon coach and co-founder and coach of the Dare2tri Paratriathlon club in the Chicago area that helps athletes with disabilities compete in the sport of Triathlon. As dare2tri continues to grow, countless youth, adults, and injured service members with a physical disability such as amputation, spinal cord injury, stroke, Spina Bifida, Cerebral Palsy, visual impairment, or blindness have been empowered through participation in triathlon while inspiring the community at large. For more information Dare2Tri Organization, please visit www.dare2tri.org.
Melissa serves on the board of directors for the Wounded Warrior Project, the USAT Foundation and is the USAT Womens Committee. As a motivational speaker, she has spoken at companies such as Accenture, Hartford, Deloitte and numerous others. She talks about overcoming obstacles and living life too its fullest. She has been featured in number significant media outlets. The most recent and notable were the cover of the Chicago Tribune and USA Triathlon magazine, CNN, Sports Illustrated, a Hartford TV commercial, People and Sports Illustrated magazines. She was also featured in a documentary called ‘From Baghdad to Beijing’ which chronicled Melissa and three other wounded warrior’s journey from the roads of Baghdad to the Paralympics in Beijing.
Melissa is a proud American and has done more with one leg than she ever imagined she would do with two. She is a lover of life, a soon to be mom and looks forward to what the next couple of years will bring. If you would like to know more about Melissa’s achievements, awards, and speaking schedule, visit her website at www.melissastockwell.com. You can also follow her on twitter @MStockwell01.
Melissa in her own words
How does it feel to be an inspiration to others? Did you ever expect to become an inspiration?
I love my life and all I do. If what I do inspires others then that’s the cherry on top.
Why are Triathlons so inspiring? What makes this sport so special around the world?
They are challenging and not everyone has the will to get to that starting line. It takes training and believing in yourself to get there.
When did you start participating in triathlons? Where was your first competition?
2009. The Chicago Triathlon was my first one.
What motivates you in life?
Proving to myself that missing a leg doesn’t stop me from doing the things I want to do in life. I can go on and dream big, one leg or two.
What would you say to other people with similar ambitions?
Don’t be afraid to get out there and try something new. Who knows, you might find a new passion!
Who inspires you? Why?
Anyone that has overcome an obstacle or a hard time in their life. I feel lucky to have my life and during a tough race I think about those that gave the ultimate sacrifice and they motivate me and inspire me to keep moving forward.
How did you deal with obstacles in your life?
I have an awesome support team by my side that believes in me and supports me through anything I dream of doing.
What do you like most about Triathlons?
The challenge. Getting to that finish line and the support of all the other athlete on the course.
Mention major accomplishments in your life other than triathlons
I swam in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.