Melissa Stockwell a hero in more ways than one

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.

Missy Franklin headlines Annual Salute to Women in Sports as Sportswoman of the Year

Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans during the 2012 London Summer Games, swimmer Missy Franklin earned the highest honor bestowed by the 34th Annual Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan. Former WSF President Aimee Mullins and freeskier Grete Eliassen presented Franklin with the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award.

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Following her remarkable performance at London that saw her capture four gold medals and a bronze, she staked her claim as the world’s greatest female swimmer two months ago. Competing at the world championships in Barcelona, Spain, Franklin claimed a record six gold medals. Entering her freshman year at the University of California, she beat out fellow nominees Serena Williams, figure skater Mao Asada and wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden.

Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker grabbed the award for the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Team Sport Award. Having helped the Sparks to a 21-10 record during the 2013 WNBA regular season, her season was complemented by claiming the league’s MVP award and posting a league-high 25.7 points per game.

Another highlights for the WNBA was the league being recognized with the Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Founded in 1997, the league has served as an inspiration for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Women’s Football Alliance, proving that women have every right to compete as professional athletes.

Vivian Hao won the Annika Inspiration Award named after golf legend Annika Sorenstam, who was also in attendance. A student at famed Duke University, she has contributed to various social causes and is also an accomplished tennis player.

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

One of the true highlights of the evening was the fact that many amputee athletes (including some that have competed in the Paralympics) were in attendance. From Alana Nichols to Scout Bassett, Mallory Weggeman and Tatyana McFadden, they were also joined by Melissa Stockwell, the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Winner. The criteria for the award is a female athlete that has displayed tremendous courage, having had the ability to overcome adversity and make significant contributions to sports

Stockwell is a true American hero. A former U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart winner, she lost her leg during service to her country in Iraq. Rather than feel sorry for herself, she took the opportunity to embrace a new endeavor. Becoming a Paralympic swimmer and accomplished triathlete, she put it best when she stated that she has accomplished more with one leg than she ever thought she could.

With McFadden having been nominated for the Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award, it shows the positive impact women are making to the significant growth of paralympic sports. These remarkable women are a true inspiration for disabled people the world over.

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson. (Getty Images)

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson.
(Getty Images)

Sponsored by espnW and Gatorade, the event is a remarkable celebration of women in sport. The awards presentation was only half of the fun during a glorious evening. A remarkable red carpet to the Grand March of Athletes represented a sterling celebration for the accomplishment of women in sport. Of note, Mary Carillo and Julie Foudy co-hosted the Grand March, featuring 50 athletes.

Several heartwarming events helped define the spirit of friendship and sisterhood at the gala. Diana Nyad, who swam successfully from Cuba to Florida received a thunderous roar of approval. The recipient of a special tribute award, her commitment to making her goals come true was an inspiration.

Those in attendance also had the opportunity to peek into the future. Two junior athletes, Sam Gordon, a 10 year-old football phenomenon and Amanda Rivera from the New York Junior Tennis League, graced the stage. They were joined by four-time Winter Games hockey participant Angela Ruggiero, who discussed life lessons learned from hockey. These two future stars could not have a better mentor in Ruggiero.