BROOMFIELD, Colo. — A recipient of the military’s Purple Heart and the first female soldier to lose a limb in Iraq, Melissa Stockwell, CP, shared her story at the Association of Children’s Prosthetic-Orthotic Clinics Annual Meeting, here.
Stockwell’s leg was severed when an improvised explosive device hit a convoy she was leading in Baghdad in 2004. While undergoing rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she first walked while using parallel bars and advanced to using crutches and then a cane. She recalled the first day she walked on her own.
“Talk about an exciting day,” she said. “I had all these questions [about] if I was going to be independent. This day that I was able to walk on my own, I realized that life was going to go on.”
As Stockwell told it, losing her leg was just the beginning of her story.
“I had always considered myself an athlete and now that I could walk, I was not going to be myself again until I got back into some sort of athletics,” she said.
Through connections at the medical center, Stockwell skied with the Wounded Warrior Project, participated in the New York City Marathon using a hand-powered bicycle and began training as a swimmer for the Paralympics while attending school to earn her certification as a prosthetist. Four years after her amputation, Stockwell made the U.S. Paralympic swim team and was on her way to Beijing to compete. Although Stockwell was disappointed with her performance at the games, she said she learned an important lesson.
“Life is not about being on top of the podium. [Sometimes,] it is about the journey to get there,” she said. “It is about overcoming obstacles that come your way and persevering through them.”
After the Paralympics, Stockwell completed her residency at Scheck & Siress, where she works as a prosthetist, and joined the board of the Wounded Warrior Project. She also became a triathlete and has won three Paratriathlon World Championships and has participated in an Ironman Triathlon.
Stockwell said one of her greatest accomplishments is co-founding Dare2Tri, a club that offers athletic camps and clinics for people with physical disabilities. The motto of Dare2Tri is “one inspires many,” she said, adding, “They all inspire me [by] doing things that they never thought possible.”
She encouraged others to take control of their own stories.
“We all have the power to choose what we want our stories to be,” she said. – by Amanda Alexander
Stockwell M. Hector Kay Memorial Lecture: From Baghdad to Beijing and Beyond. Presented at: Association of Children’s Prosthetic-Orthotic Clinics Annual Meeting; April 13, 16, 2016; Broomfield, Colo.
Disclosure: Stockwell reports no relevant financial disclosures.