Written by Stefanie Peterson
Melissa Stockwell is used to being first. In 2004, Stockwell was the first American female soldier to lose a limb in Iraq. Then in 2008, she became the first Iraqi Veteran to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, representing the US Swim Team in the 100 and 400 freestyle, and 100 butterfly. Two years later, Stockwell entered the world of Paratriathlon, and she has not looked back. She took the sport by storm, crossing the finish line first at the 2010 Paratriathlon World Championships, presently a three-time World Champion. And now, Melissa Stockwell is preparing herself to compete in the first Paralympic Games to debut Paratriathlon.
Being at Walter Reed, what was the biggest positive influence and motivator for you?
Walter Reed is a very powerful place. When I was able to look around and take in my surroundings I saw so many other soldiers worse off than I was; missing multiple limbs, their eyesight, TBI’s (a.k.a. traumatic brain injuries). It put things in perspective, realizing I was one of the lucky ones only missing one leg. Instead of seeing the devastation, I chose to see the resilience we all had and that inspired me.
Were you confident that you would continue to be an athlete?
I needed to let my body heal first before I thought about being an athlete. But once I learned to walk and realized I could be independent, being an athlete was next on my mind. When I heard about the Paralympics it was a new dream that somehow, someway I was going to be a Paralympian. As soon as I got back in the pool and out on a race course, my competitive spirit came back quick. I am so proud to live a life of athletics with just one leg!
How do you feel about representing the US in the debut of Paratriathlon in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio?
It’s amazing and I am so thrilled to be a part of its debut! To show the world what we can call do on the World’s biggest athletic stage is such an honor!
What are you doing to prepare for the Paralympics?
I swim, bike and run A LOT! I train 2-3 hours a day and recover 1-2 additional hours so it is a part time job. Mentally, I work with a sports psychologist and we work on keeping my mind focused and in the moment. The mental side of things is just as important as the physical side!
What has been the single best piece of training advice?
To take things day by day and to trust the process. After the birth of my son 20 months ago, it was easy to get discouraged when I compared my times against my competitors. I had to learn to be happy with my small progress day by day and ultimately it paid off!
At Rio, what are you at most looking forward to?
Representing the greatest country in the world with my USA uniform! That and having all my hard work and sacrifices over the past 2 years pay off. I can’t wait to hug my family at the finish line. I didn’t get to Rio on my own, it was a team effort.
Out of the disciplines, which one is your favorite?
I love the water so swimming is my favorite. But I’ve been working hard on the bike and have learned to love it as well. I really love all three!
Do you have any favorite training gear?
I am obsessed with my Garmin 920XT, almost to a fault. I simply can’t do a workout without it! I don’t use anything special for swim training. The standard pull buoy, paddles and fin (just one) are used often.
What is the hardest training session you’ve logged to date?
Probably a track workout. A few weeks back I had 8×800 descending paces and my heart rate was at an all time high. Brick workouts can also be challenging but the hardest training sessions are typically my favorite.
How does nutrition influence your success?
Nutrition plays a huge part in my training which is tough because I have a big sweet tooth. I try to balance my protein, carbs and healthy fat depending on my workouts that day and the following day. I feel better and my workouts are on track when I eat healthy. My favorite post workout snack is a Chobani yogurt, it’s tasty and packed with protein!
How do you get motivated on days you don’t want to get out of bed?
I look at my son and that gets me going. I want him to see his mom with big dreams so that he grows up with big dreams of his own.
After the Paralympics, what are your next goals?
My husband Brian and I would like to expand our family so that will cover me into next year. After that, I’m not sure! I know I will always compete it’s just a matter of deciding what level I want to compete at. I am 36 years old now so another 4 years isn’t out of the question. I would like to get more into coaching continue my motivational speaking career.
What are your hopes for Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club you founded?
Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club is one of my proudest accomplishments. We help youth, adults and injured service members with a physical disability get into the sport of triathlon by providing coaching, training, adaptive equipment and more. The confidence and self worth our athletes gain is immeasurable. We have become one of the nation’s leaders in Paratriathlon and we’ve grown larger than we ever imagined. Our goals will be to recruit more athletes to come see what they are capable of and to continue inspiring many. You can read more about it www.dare2tri.org.
Do you have any secret talents?
I can walk on my hands across a large room. And I love handstand contests. I also have an unusual ability to eat a full bag of BBQ chips or a plate full of cookies in one sitting. That’s a talent right?
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
I once ate gummy works the night before a race and had the race of my life. So now I try and eat a few gummy works the night before every big race.