No dream too big for disabled vet
By LENORE SOBOTA | The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill. | Published: March 31, 2014
NORMAL — Army veteran Melissa Stockwell has overcome losing a leg in Iraq to represent the United States at the Paralympics and become a world champion paratriathlete.
Her message to others is: “They can do the same. No dream is too big.”
She will deliver that message Tuesday at Illinois State University as part of Science and Technology Week.
“It's my story – losing my limb in Iraq and … obstacles that have been overcome,” Stockwell said of her talk, “Baghdad to Beijing and Beyond.”
Stockwell was 24-year-old lieutenant when her humvee hit a roadside bomb April 13, 2004. Her leg was amputated above the knee.
While recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she swam for therapy. Swimming felt natural to her. It was easy to slip into the pool and she liked her time in the water.
“It made me feel whole again,” Stockwell said.
When she learned about the Paralympics, an event for impaired athletes that takes place after the Olympics, Stockwell set her sights on Beijing in 2008.
She made the team and carried the U.S. flag in the closing ceremonies. Although she didn't win a medal, Stockwell said she learned, “The journey is more important.”
The Challenged Athletes Foundation invited her to do a triathlon and, Stockwell said, “I was pretty much hooked from the start.” She likes the challenge and variety of triathlon, which combines swimming, cycling and running.
Stockwell usually competes in sprint distances: a 750-yard swim, 20-kilometer bike course and 4-kilometer run. She completed an Ironman Triathlon in November. She uses a regular upright bicycle.
She became a world champion paratriathlete and, in 2011, co-founded Dare2Tri, a Chicago-based organization that helps athletes with disabilities get into triathlon through clinics, camps and adaptive equipment.
Alan Lacy, acting dean of ISU's College of Applied Science and Technology, said Stockwell has “a remarkable story” that fits well with the college's programs, which include military science, health sciences and therapeutic recreation.
In selecting a keynote speaker, the college looks for someone who relates to its departments but also appeals to a wide range of people, Lacy said.
“We're really excited to have her here,” he said.
Stockwell is a certified prosthetist at Scheck & Siress Prosthetics, fitting amputees with artificial limbs. Stockwell said she is able to show them “there are so many opportunities out there.”
“It's so rewarding” to get other amputees involved in sports, Stockwell said, noting their sense of achievement “carries over into all aspects of their lives.”
Stockwell has more goals: improving on her 1-hour-30-minute personal best in the triathlon, making the 2016 USA Paralympic team and climbing a mountain.
“Anything it possible,” Stockwell said. “Life is short — some understand that more than other.”
Stockwell serves on the board of the Wounded Warrior Project and as a peer mentor to other wounded veterans.
While at ISU, Stockwell will have lunch with female ROTC cadets, host the sold-out Neon at Night Fun Run and talk to classes and campus recreation staff.
Other events during Science and Technology Week include a professional development dinner Monday that brings together students and alumni, inductions into the college's Academy of Achievement and a student-run fashion show on Friday.