Swimming quickly became my safe haven. It was my sanctuary, and it gave me a renewed zest for life that I had been searching for since I had been paralyzed.
– Mallory Weggemann
It's Not the Moments That Defines Us...
Mallory Weggemann has been a competitive swimmer since the age of seven. On January 21, 2008, she went to the hospital to receive her third and final epidural injection that she was receiving to help treat back pain caused by postherpetic neuralgia. The epidural injections that were supposed to help with the debilitating pain instead left Mallory a paraplegic with complete loss of movement from her abdomen down.
Just three months after her injury at the age of 18, Weggemann chose to return to the pool. In April 2008, her older sister found an article in the local newspaper discussing the Paralympic Swimming Trials at the University of Minnesota. Through the encouragement of her family, Mallory attended the meet as a spectator with her sister and met several of the US National Team coaches, as well as her former coach, Jim Andersen. Still coping with her new disability, Weggemann found one thing unchanged, her love for swimming.
...It's How We Respond...
Mallory touts her Paralympic trials experience as a game changer, saying, “I have always loved the sport but when this happened I thought my days of swimming were over and when I realized I could still do it, well I will never forget that moment.” Just a few days later, Weggemann returned to the pool and has been swimming ever since.
Less than a year and a half later, Mallory broke her first set of world records at the 2009 Can Am Speedo Para Swim Meet. Over the next four years she broke 34 American Records, 15 World Records, becoming a twelve time World Champion and became a two Paralympic Medalist at the London 2012 Games – one gold, the other bronze. Weggemann’s Gold Medal race has been deemed one of the most memorable moments of the 2012 London Games, inspiring audiences around the world. Although the London 2012 Games weren’t the end for Mallory’s swimming career.
... And How We Choose to Move Forward
Following the London 2012 Games Mallory launched her career as a highly sought after motivational speaker and began her training for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Although, in 2014 fate would leave Weggemann with another twist in her athletic journey after she sustained permanent nerve damage to her left arm. Faced with the reality of potentially having to retire Weggemann decided that she wasn’t willing to give up on her dream of the Rio 2016 Games without a fight.
“As hard as life can get in certain moments, there’s always a way to move forward,” Mallory said. “We just have to choose to move forward. I knew how to do that. I learned that after my paralysis. I knew I had the strength to do it. I just had to find that again.” Weggemann returned to the water, her sanctuary and looked to the black line as she fought her way back. With the support of her coach, Steve Van Dyne, Weggemann began her comeback. When Mallory talks about her comeback following injury she says, “It takes a community, it takes a belief that you can be better, that you can fight back, that you can defy all odds and that you do not have to be a victim of your circumstance. A comeback is about the desire to redefine all limitations, having the courage to do what many would call impossible, the passion for what you love to do and most of all having the grace to know when you simply cannot do it alone.”
Weggemann is now a two-time Paralympian and will be training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Swimming Career Highlights
- Two-time Paralympian (Rio 2016, London 2012) in Swimming
- Paralympic Gold Medalist in 50m Freestyle at the London 2012 Games
- Paralympic Bronze Medalist in the 4×100 34 pt Medley Relay at the London 2012 Games
- 9 time member of the US Paralympics National Team
- 15-time World Champion
- Has held 34 American Records
- Has held 15 World Records
- 2019 World Para Swimming World Championship in London – Two gold medals and one silver medal
- 2015 Para Pan American Games in Toronto – Two gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze medal
- 2012 Paralympic Record Holder – 50m Freestyle
- 2011 ESPN ESPY winner – Best Female Athlete with a Disability
- 2011 Pan Pac Championships in Edmonton, Canada – Nine gold medals
- 2009, 2010 and 2011 USA Swimming Disabled Swimmer of the Year (Trischa L. Zorn Award)
- 2010 IPC Swimming Long Course World Championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands – Eight gold medals and one silver medal
- 2009 and 2010 Swimming World Magazine Female Disabled Swimmer of the Year
- 2009 IPC Swimming Short Course World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Five gold medals