April 24, 2019

Unwavering Grit


Last month I sat down and read “Grit” by Angela Duckworth again – her findings on the relation between talent and performance, her conversation of deliberate performance and the journey of finding passion, is one that sparked reflection of my own journey.


My greatest passions took time to develop, they didn’t develop as a result of success, they have been fostered with time, fueled by interest. Prior to my paralysis I grew up a swimmer, I began to compete at the age of 7 and swam varsity all four years of high school, serving as captain my senior year. Although, I never made it to State – my passion was fueled off of my love for the sport, not success. After 23 years of identifying as a swimmer and over a decade of that spent in the Para Swimming world my passion is still fueled by love rather than success. Yes, I am a Paralympic Gold Medalist, a two-time Paralympian, dreaming for a third Games in Tokyo and a chance to sit atop the podium again – but this journey didn’t start because I jumped in a pool and started winning, this journey started because I jumped in a pool and started to love. Now, I find motivation in the challenge that comes with trying to become a better version of myself today then I was yesterday. I find motivation in identifying where my weaknesses lie and showing up tomorrow and trying to improve, I find motivation in my fascination of seeing the incredible power that comes in our bodies ability to adapt to its circumstance and redefine possibilities. I find motivation in the challenge of not just putting the hours in but being intentional, making sure I am deliberate in my training rather then just showing up and going through the motions. I find motivation in knowing that grit has nothing to do with the speed in which we reach our dreams, but rather that despite the setbacks, road blocks and detours, we still show up – in fact it is because of them that we show up and keep at it, knowing the gratification that comes in not giving in, staying persistent in the pursuit of our dreams. I find motivation in knowing that I have been a swimmer for 23 years and I haven’t even scratched the surface of my potential, because regardless of how high we climb we can always climb higher.


When I look at my own journey I realize that for each passion there is a story of growth – our interests take time to develop into a passion, they take intention, nurturing and after years, maybe, just maybe, we begin to find a flow – something that looks effortless because we have nurtured it with deliberate practice day in and day out.


In high school many of us have to take a speech class of some sort, for me speaking in front of others was never something that felt comfortable. I ended my high school speech class with a “C” – I often scored poorly in other classes where participation in the classroom was scored based on raising your hand and contributing to the conversation – nothing about speaking amongst my peers felt natural. Following my paralysis I learned that it was important to find my voice, as I was now living life with a circumstance that if I couldn’t find my own voice, no one would give it to me. Finding my voice lead to an interest in how to communicate my story and the impact my experiences could have on others. In the past 15 years I went from getting a “C” in high school speech class to becoming a motivational speaker for a living. My speaking career didn’t come naturally, it stemmed from my interest in learning to find my own voice after an incredibly traumatic experience and then was fueled by my purpose of wanting to make a difference in the world around me. Now today, my speaking is something that although I am incredibly deliberate with, making sure I am authentic, vulnerable and in tune with each audience, it also just flows – it feels natural. Each stage I take I feel a calmness, as each speech feels like a discussion – a conversation of the stories we each carry and our ability to find the power that our circumstance carries rather then feel succumbed by our circumstance.


So in the end, is it talent that leads to success? Or is it grit? I have been complimented on my talents, whether it be as an athlete or a speaker, but I like to think that my success is rather a result of nurturing my passion, being deliberate in my performance, staying persistent in the pursuit of my dreams – frankly, I think talent has very little to do with it.  Even those who have mastered their respective crafts in a way that they look effortless, they are anything but – they have been executed hundreds of thousands of times when no one has been watching, they have been challenged by failure and after hundreds of thousands of hours of being intentional, of falling 7 times and choosing to get up 8, of showing up day in and day out despite the challenges before them, of choosing to be persistent in the pursuit of their dreams, realizing that grit is a test of time – it is then that we can look in from the outside and compliment their perceived “talent” when in reality what we are witnessing is the success that comes on the other side of unwavering grit.

April 25, 2016

I #LoveMyShape Because It’s Mine

Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of the #LoveMyShape social media campaign that SHAPE Magazine put together and while I was thinking about what it is that I love about my shape, it got me thinking about the journey it took to get me to this point.

We all have insecurities, self-confidence issues and feeling less than beautiful at times. We shame our bodies, call out more often what we hate than what we love about them and are quick to have the need to start a new “diet” or workout plan to “fix” our bodies. My question is for what though? At what point do we cross over from the need to go to the gym because we are trying to “fix” our bodies, to going to the gym simply because we love our bodies?

I was paralyzed over 8 years ago at the age of 18, I was just two months shy from my 19th birthday and one of the biggest struggles I had following my injury was learning how to feel beautiful again, learning to love my body. After my injury I felt like a deer in headlights everywhere I went, I went from this bubbly, outgoing individual, to someone that felt timid, insecure and incredibly uncomfortable in social settings. It was a difficult realization when I realized that as I went about my daily life, I felt different from everyone around me. You don’t wheel around and run into individuals in wheelchairs everywhere you go; I felt different and honestly, I felt out numbered. I was trying to find my confidence again, but it was hard because there weren’t individuals around me I could look to, I didn’t see individuals with physical impairments in magazines, I didn’t see individuals with physical impairments in our entertainment industry, everywhere I looked I realized I didn’t have anyone I could look to as a role model that “looked” like me.

As I adjusted to life in a wheelchair, I worked on rebuilding my self confidence, I returned to competitive swimming, was named to the US National team, had gone back to school and built back my independence, but it still took time before I felt comfortable, before I could feel beautiful. I remember about a year and a half after my paralysis my mom and I went dress shopping for a dress for an event I had, it was my first time dress shopping following my injury and as I sat in the dressing room at the store I found myself in tears as I looked in the mirror. I felt like nothing fit right sitting down, instead of feeling beautiful, I felt frumpy. I used to stand at 5’ 9” and weighed all of 115 pounds and now I sat, my body had changed and I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. We have all had those moments in our lives though, our bodies have changed, and we have felt insecure, less than beautiful. Although, over the years I have learned that when we embrace our difference, when we learn to love our bodies, “flaws” and all that, it is what makes us beautiful. The reality is if we shame and blame our bodies, name our flaws more than our features, no matter what we do to become that image we have in our mind of what “beauty” is, we will never feel beautiful, because it will never be enough. Being beautiful and loving our bodies is learning to celebrate our features, learning the love the very things that make us unique and being happy with who we are.

So as I sat in the gym last week and had my fiancé take a photo of me in a sports bra that said #LoveMyShape, I realized that what I love most about my shape is the very things many might consider “imperfections.” I love my wheels, I may not stand at 5’ 9” but I don’t need to, honestly I feel more beautiful in my wheelchair than I ever felt standing on my own two feet. I love the journey my body has taken me on, the story it tells and the places it has taken me and will continue to take me. Our bodies are more than an image; they are the vehicles that carry us to chase our dreams. I #LoveMyShape because it is mine, it is unique to me and I believe that very uniqueness is what makes us all so incredibly beautiful! Above all I #LoveMyShape because I want my future children to grow up in a world where they are celebrated for who they are, not what they look like, where the future generation can have role models of all shapes and sizes, a world that is inclusive and there doesn’t have to be celebration because we have embraced “plus size” models or “disabled” models and models are simply that, models, individuals that celebrate all of the differences we carry, without having a label attached to them. So celebrate your features, love your body because it is yours and it is what has gotten you to where you are.





March 15, 2016

Journey to Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

We are officially less than 6 months out from the 2016 Paralympic Games and it is hard to put into words the emotion that comes with knowing that a journey that has lasted for years upon years is in its final stages. Following my paralysis in 2008 I literally drowned myself in my swimming, I learned how to move on with my life by going to a pool every day and working towards something that physically forced me to push my body to its ultimate limits. That mentality was my way of fighting back against the stereotypes of what having a “physical disability” means. I felt like I was now seen as someone who physically was incapable and my way of proving otherwise was showing up to the pool and pushing my body as far as I could to become the best athlete I could become, to excel, to push boundaries and barriers of what is possible physically.

Now London has come and gone, believe it or not it has been nearly 4 years since the London 2012 Games and now the Rio 2016 Games are right around the corner. I thought going into London I learned what it took, I learned how to overcome unfavorable circumstance, that I learned how to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and that I learned how to push my body. Although in 2014 the unexpected happened, I suffered a severe arm injury to my left arm, resulting in significant loss of function in my arm due to nerve damage, which has since been deemed permanent. My world shattered, I didn’t know if I could fight back from this, I feared that I would be forced to say goodbye to the world of competitive swimming and hang my suit up. Although, after months of being out of the pool and battling the uncertainties I found myself back in the same place I was in after my paralysis, going back to the water for solace, returning to my sanctuary.

The idea of coming to terms with now having permanent loss of function in my arm was more than I could handle, but each day I went to the pool it was my way of fighting back. Unfortunately with my nerve damage comes severe nerve pain so every time I touch the water I am faced with unbearable pain, pain that I never even knew existed. Although, as strange as it may sound I felt comfort in the fact that at least I could feel my arm, at least I knew it hurt. To drown out the pain I turned to music and since returning to the pool I now train with music to help me push past the pain.

The journey to the Rio 2016 Games has been an unexpected one, coming back from injury, relearning how to do the simple tasks again as I have lost the grip in my left hand. The trial and error of realizing my arm doesn’t work the way it used to, of learning how to adapt not only my athletic life, but my everyday life as well has been a world of trial and error, a world of ups and downs. But this journey, this journey is about fighting back, about proving that no matter what happens we all have the ability to overcome, about seeing it through not only for myself but those who never, ever stopped believing in me. Many have counted me out, many have said I won’t be able to be the athlete I once was, but every day my body hits the water, every moment I stare at that black line on the bottom of the pool it is me fighting back, proving that if we have enough grit, enough determination and enough passion, anything is possible!

February 11, 2016

From disaster to triumph: A week in the life of Mallory Weggemann

U.S. swimmer Mallory Weggemann was paralyzed from the waist down in 2008 after a routine epidural injection went wrong. She returned to the pool and became a world champion, setting 15 records. Now 23, she had been targeting nine gold medals at London 2012 but her events were reduced after her classification was altered by the International Paralympic Committee. She writes for CNN about her journey to London 2012.

London, England (CNN) – When I think back on this past week and the rollercoaster of emotions I have experienced at the Paralympics, I realize that everything happens for a reason.

Hours before the London 2012 opening ceremonies I learned that my appeal to overturn my reclassification had been denied. In that moment I felt defeat.

I felt as though everything I had worked for the past four and a half years had been stripped from me, but it was then that I realized that the journey to get to this point wasn’t about the medals.

The reason why I got back in the water in April 2008 nearly four months after being paralyzed, the reason that I devoted my life to swimming for the past four years, the sacrifices I made, and the person I became, wasn’t about the medals.

I think it was easy for me to get lost in the numbers — the number of how many golds I could win — but when this happened it forced me to reflect on my journey and what got me to this point. I realized I did all of that to become the best possible swimmer, athlete and person I could be for this very moment, medals or no medals.