Mallory Weggemann reflects on past trauma to face today’s difficult times

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Paralympic swimming champion Mallory Weggemann has been out of the water for so long that the pond in her backyard has become enticing.

“When the snow melts, maybe we can jump in there,” the Minnesotan joked on “Distanced Training” with Jac Collinsworth.

It’s been nearly a month since Weggemann last swam. She makes do with a range of gym equipment brought into her garage, including a bench that allows her to make swim strokes on land. She taped a black line to the floor to make it as close as possible to the real thing.

Weggemann’s situation these days is similar to many Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. Her life story, though, is one of a kind.

On Jan. 21, 2008, Weggemann lost movement from the waist down while receiving epidural injections to treat shingles. She was 18 years old. She spent plenty of time after that day wishing she could go back to the way life was on Jan. 20.

“There’s an element of, at some point once we let ourselves go through the grief,” Weggemann said, referring not to her own journey, but to what millions are facing now, “realizing that it’s OK to not be what we were a month ago, and it doesn’t mean that that’s a bad thing. We can actually end up being so much better because of it.

“The reality is, I look at even my own journey, and I’ve done more on four wheels than I ever did on two feet. My life is so much better because of what happened on January 21st, 2008. While it was traumatic and devastating for me in so many ways, it built me into the person I am today, and I’m a better person because of it.”

Weggemann earned gold and bronze medals at the 2012 London Games.

In 2014, the swimmer had what she called a horrific fall to a shower floor when her bench collapsed from underneath her in a New York City accessible hotel room.

She suffered permanent nerve damage and lost both the grip in her left hand and about 75 percent of function in that arm. She considered retirement while forced out of the pool for several months. But she returned and swam through the pain.

In 2017, she underwent a six-hour surgery, removing two muscles and a rib in her upper chest. That December, another muscle was detached from her left side. At one point, her husband slept for two weeks on a cot next to her hospital bed. She went 18 months between swimming. Weggemann returned to make the 2019 World Championships team, earning two golds and a silver.

“There’s just that element and reminder that while our world faces devastation and while families are facing heartbreak and while we are all facing change in a way that we have never seen before, maybe it’s OK to not be what were a month ago,” she said. “Maybe, instead of being what we were a month ago, we’re going to find at the end of this that, in fact, we’re so much better.”

MORE: ‘Power of Choice’: Melissa Stockwell on a Paralympic dream deferred

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