As the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War, Melissa Stockwell was a part of military history that no one would like to be part of. It would have been easy for Stockwell to engulf herself in self-pity and distance herself. Yet, her composure and resilience are what makes her a hero to more than just young athletes, but for anyone who has suffered through physical ailment and the sometimes psychological scars it can present.
While she retired from the military with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, there would be another type of medal that Stockwell would be decorated with. In 2010, Stockwell would compete at the 2010 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. She would claim the first of three consecutive gold medals in the TRI-2 (above knee amputee) Class while being recognized as Paratriathlete of the Year by the USAT. The gold medal performances at the 2011 championships in Beijing and the Auckland competition of 2012 would cement her legacy as America’s greatest paratriathlete ever.
The road towards glory would come through another sport. As the first Iraq veteran that competed for the United States in the Paralympic Games, she would take part in three swimming events at Beijing 2008. While her best effort was fourth place in the 400 meter freestyle heat, her performance captured the hearts of Americans.
Bestowed with the honor of being the flagbearer for the closing ceremonies in Beijing, it was an emotional moment in her storied career. Her efforts to compete as a Paralympian were documented in the film, Warrior Champions: From Baghdad to Beijing by the Renaud brothers, Brent and Craig.
At the 2013 Women’s Sports Foundation awards gala, Stockwell was bestowed the honor of the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Winner. The criteria is for an athlete who has displayed tremendous courage while overcoming adversity and making significant contributions to sports. Commenting that she has accomplished more with one leg than she ever thought she could, it was a message of inspiration for amputees the world over.
Currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Wounded Warrior Project, she is also the co-founder of Dare2Tri, a paratriathlete club out of Chicago. Proving that sport is able to help integrate disabled people into society, Stockwell is helping to open the door to a larger world in which competition, friendship and perseverance are met with dignity and self-esteem.