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Mirai Nagasu makes commentating debut at U.S. Championships

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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Mirai Nagasu sat tall in a chair in front of three cameras and two LED stage lights, which brought out the features of her face and brightened the white jacket she donned.

Instead of lacing up her skates for the 13th consecutive year at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Nagasu, the first American woman to land a triple Axel in Olympic competition, was behind a desk, holding a microphone.

Nagasu had hip surgery in September; her body isn’t fully healed yet to allow her to get back to competitive figure skating.

But Nagasu couldn’t see herself confined to watching nationals at her home, especially after seeing several of her idols – Kristi Yamaguchi, Meryl Davis and Charlie White – come to nationals year after year despite no longer skating competitively.

“Yes, they might all be Olympic champions, and I may have missed those qualifications,” Nagasu said, “but at the same time, I want to give back in a way that I’m capable of.”

She then reached out to U.S. Figure Skating, hoping to find a way to come to nationals in Detroit through a different route.

Shortly after that conversation, Nagasu was given the opportunity to join the Bridgestone Ice Desk crew as an analyst for nationals.

On Thursday, just moments before the pairs’ short program commenced, Nagasu had her broadcast debut.

“I’m used to being in front of the camera, and I enjoy it,” Nagasu said, “but being out on the Jumbotron and being live and not being able to make mistakes, is something I’m not always used to.”

Nagasu said she enjoys watching a multitude of different analytical shows, and realized that to be a broadcaster, you have to be quick on your feet and deliver your answers with “your own twist and your own personality.”

Sitting between host Nick McCarvel and former competitive skater Brooke Castile, Nagasu’s smile shone bright throughout her debut.

She looked confident, which Nagasu admitted was sometimes faked.

“Fake it ’till you make it,” she joked.

Nagasu said she wants to branch out of skating as well, and the opportunity to work on the Ice Desk is a prime beginning.

“For me to be given the opportunity to be a part of the Ice Desk, is something I am really grateful for,” she said. “I’m grateful to my skating and to have found it at such a young age; I think that’s where I’m at right now – being humble and being grateful for everything I have in my life.”

MORE: Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation brings skating stars to Detroit ahead of U.S. Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Wounded Warrior to World Champion: Melissa Stockwell shares journey in book

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Melissa Stockwell considered herself lucky to only lose a leg.

It was April 13, 2004. Stockwell, three weeks after being deployed to Iraq, was a passenger in the back of a Humvee when a roadside bomb detonated under the vehicle. She woke up in a Baghdad emergency room, still in her Army fatigues. But her left leg was gone, amputated above the knee.

Stockwell became the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War. She made sure that label alone would not define the rest of her life.

Stockwell relearned how to walk. Four years after the explosion, she became the first veteran of that war to make Team USA, swimming at the Beijing Paralympics.

Then, on Sept. 11, 2016, she earned a bronze medal in triathlon’s Paralympic debut, part of a U.S. medals sweep. She added that to her three world championships, plus a Purple Heart and Bronze Star and another title: mom, to then-1-year-old Dallas.

Stockwell and husband Brian Tolsma since welcomed daughter Millie in 2017.

Stockwell, now 40, planned on not only competing in her third Paralympics this summer, but also publishing her autobiography. She must wait one more year for Tokyo. Her book, “The Power of Choice: My Journey from Wounded Warrior to World Champion,” comes out Tuesday.

Below is an excerpt, the story of Stockwell becoming a Paralympian:

The horn went off. The swimmers hit the water. I sprinted out past Elizabeth, working hard, probably racing the first 100 meters a little more recklessly and at a faster pace than would have been prudent. I knew this was a pace that I couldn’t keep up, but this was probably my last shot at the Paralympics in Beijing.

After that first 100 meters, I was way ahead. I executed my flip turn at the wall and took my breath to start the next 100. I could feel time slow down, each moment stretched as my eyes caught Jimi going crazy at the side of the pool. He was swinging his arms like a windmill. I could hear him screaming, Go! Go! Go!

The sound of his voice seemed to fill me with power. I pushed hard through the next 100 meters. At 200, I did an efficient flip turn and scanned the next lane. I executed my stroke, one after another after another. I was still ahead of Elizabeth by a few strokes. Jimi was going absolutely nuts, jumping up and down, his arms flailing like a wild man.

At 300 meters, I was still ahead of Elizabeth. Everything stood out stark and vivid. The wheels in my head processed the fact of what was happening as I went down into the water for my final turn. Am I having a really good race, or is Elizabeth having a really bad one?

I resurfaced from my turn and took a lungful of breath. Everyone I knew in the stands was on their feet and totally out of control. Jimi’s energy pushed me. The energy from my loved ones pushed me. And then I began to really push myself, finding a reserve of energy that felt like I had never tapped it before. I sprinted those final 100 meters at a pace I didn’t know I was capable of; I was surging with every muscle, pushing so hard that it felt like I was in some new world.

When I reached the finish, I hit the wall to an eruption of cheers that made the pool sound like someone had just won the Super Bowl. I was trying to catch my breath when I turned around and looked up at the scoreboard.

There was my name: Melissa Stockwell. I was listed in first place. The time next to it read: 5:03 AR.

Melissa StockwellI did a double-take. That number next to my name: was that real? Did someone make a mistake? Was this happening?

Had I really set an American record time?

As I pulled myself out of the pool, dripping with water, Jimi came running over and wrapped me in one of his signature bear hugs.

“Did I really just set a record?” I asked, my voice high, almost laughing with elation and a sense that it was impossible.

My previous times had been so far off a record, that I didn’t even know what the American record was. I thought there was a typo, or maybe the scoreboard was broken.

I had just dropped a full twenty seconds off my morning preliminary heat. I beat Elizabeth Stone, a great swimmer. And, most importantly, my winning time put me in third place in the world. During those five minutes and three seconds, I went from being a total obscurity and a longshot to someone who had a legitimate chance.

I swam other events during the remainder of the Trials, and I was solid but didn’t set any more records. My mind was fully ahead to Sunday when the team would be announced that was going to Beijing. I now thought I had a shot.

At ten in the morning on Sunday, all of the swimmers gathered in a glassed-in conference room that overlooked the pool. This is where the announcement was going to be made. The swimmers who knew they were a lock for the team were relaxed, chatty, and excited. Others like me, were sitting in anxious silence. My parents were there. I sat with Dick, the two of us making small talk to pass the time.

They started calling out the team members in alphabetical order. One by one, those called got up from their seats and walked to the front of the room. There they were handed a red-white-and-blue hockey-style jersey with the number “08” on the front and their last name stitched on the back—the jerseys reminded me of the Miracle on Ice. The team members were exchanging high-fives and hugging with happiness as the announcer reached the second half of the alphabet. I felt a rush of emotion and had to take a deep breath to try to calm myself. “Melissa Stockwell,” the voice called out.

I turned into an emotional wreck right there on the spot, before I could even get up and go to the front to claim my jersey. My eyes filled with tears. My parents and Dick were crying as well, as we all exchanged tight, emotional hugs.

Somehow, I made it up to the front, where I accepted my jersey and stood with my United States Paralympic teammates. I wiped away the tears that just kept coming.

This was a reality. I was going to be a Paralympian, swimming for Team USA at the Beijing games.

The journey from Baghdad to Beijing felt like it made sense, like a perfect circle that had closed. My choice to serve my country, my choice to stay positive through my rehab, my choice to train at the Olympic facility and work harder than I had ever imagined I could—it had all led to this turning point in my life. I felt a sense of power and purpose, and that all the decisions I had made had led me again to something greater than myself.

MORE: How the Olympics, Paralympics intersected over time

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Chellsie Memmel, 12 years after her Olympics, came back to gymnastics as a mom

Chellsie Memmel
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Chellsie Memmel, a 2008 Olympic gymnast who retired in 2012, documented what she titled an Adult Gymnastics Journey the last 16 weeks on YouTube, but she felt nervous about uploading last Friday’s video.

That’s because of what she chose to include at the end, a short conversation with her father and coach, Andy, inside M&M Gymnastics, the family’s gym in New Berlin, Wis., just outside Milwaukee.

“OK, anything else you want to say,” Andy asked.

“Well, I guess it’s time to admit this is a comeback,” Memmel said.

What does that mean? Well, Memmel called U.S. women’s high-performance team coordinator Tom Forster in July to discuss just that.

The first step toward competing for the first time in eight years would be attending a camp, though the coronavirus pandemic put the sport on pause.

“It would be fun to make it to a competition,” Memmel, a 32-year-old mother of two, said by phone Sunday. “We haven’t set our sights on anything specific yet, but thinking about routines and formulating plans.”

Memmel isn’t yet speculating about the national championships or Olympics (in 2021, she will be older than any U.S. Olympic gymnast in 60 years), but said it would be cool to get another skill named after her.

She’s consistently working on a piked Arabian flip on the balance beam, which no woman has performed in international competition. If Memmel can do that, perhaps at a World Cup meet, it will be named after her, to go along with an eponymous skill she already has on floor exercise.

She went about seven years between doing skills on a four-foot-tall and four-inch-wide beam.

Memmel’s father said in a video posted June 11 that she was “95 percent in shape.”

“The dad in me is like, she’s crazy, why are we still doing this?” he said. “And the coach is going, it’s so easy, why are you not still doing this?”

By posting Friday’s video, Memmel hit a milestone in a process that began in late 2018.

“That just gives it more of a commitment,” Memmel said of the video, which had 38,000 views as of Monday morning. “I’m committed to doing gymnastics. I’m committed to training. Once you do that [say ‘comeback’], there’s a certain level of expectation. More just from me. Not from anybody else.”

It all started with “Chellsie Challenge” videos — also uploaded to her YouTube channel — of gymnastics-related exercises. She called that conditioning, one year after giving birth to her second child, daughter Audrielle.

By early 2019, Memmel, also a gymnastics coach to 18 girls ages 12 to 18 and a judge at all six of Simone Biles‘ national championships, began “playing around more” with gymnastics.

“I’m in shape. I like doing gymnastics. I like flipping. Let’s just see how it feels,” Memmel said. “I had done that hard part [conditioning], so why not reward myself with flipping again? Once I started doing that, it was that much more fun, and I looked forward to working out even more because I was doing gymnastics again.”

In her most recent video, Memmel trained in a mid-2000s era leotard (due to losing a bet).

Her first international splash came in 2003, winning the world title on uneven bars at age 15. She broke a bone in her left foot in April 2004 and petitioned into an Olympic selection camp, but ultimately traveled to the Athens Games as an alternate.

Memmel asked her dad to start coaching her for the 2008 Olympic cycle. She grabbed the 2005 World all-around title by .001 over Nastia Liukin, and in doing so won a bet with her father from the previous year. Andy bought her a silver Audi TT.

In 2006, Memmel qualified first into the world all-around final. But, between qualifying and individual events, she felt her right shoulder pop during a transition skill on bars in the team final. She finished the routine, withdrew from the meet and had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff.

It took about two months to lift her arm over her head again. She didn’t fully return until 2008, taking third behind Shawn Johnson and Liukin at the national championships and Olympic Trials. In Beijing, Memmel broke a bone in her right ankle in training, limiting her to one apparatus, bars, in qualifying and the team final where the U.S. took silver.

Memmel didn’t quit.

She came back from two more shoulder surgeries in September 2011 and February 2012 to bid for the London Olympic team. She competed on one event at a tune-up meet, falling twice off the balance beam at the May 2012 U.S. Classic. Her petition to the U.S. Championships was controversially denied by USA Gymnastics. She retired later that year.

She was back at nationals in 2013, as a judge, and has been throughout the Biles era. She stayed close to the sport amid major life changes in her 20s — marriage to Kory Maier and the birth of son Dashel in 2015 and Audrielle in 2017.

Bars were Memmel’s trademark as a teenager. It’s been the toughest apparatus to get back this year. She’s exercising patience swinging on those shoulders.

“It took the longest to convince myself to try bars,” she said. “They [shoulders] feel really great now. I want them to stay that way.”

Memmel trains three days a week and is in the gym more than that, usually accompanied by her kids, who take gymnastics classes.

“When I started working out and taking time each week to do something that was just for me, it made me a happier person, and it made me a better mom,” she said. “Then, when I started doing gymnastics more, they can see that you can set goals and work hard for something and try to achieve something. I think that’s a really great message to send to your kids. Not just to tell them, but to actively show them.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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