CHARLOTTE — Moments before her first swim at the national championships, Mallory Weggemann placed her hand on her belly. She felt her child kicking. She scanned the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center and saw her husband and her parents.
Then Weggemann did what she has done so many times over a career that’s spanned three Paralympic Games, including five medals (three golds). She raced.
This time, she did so while 26 weeks pregnant.
“I’m sharing one of the things I love most in this world with our child,” she said. “Also understanding that when I get on those blocks, and I dive off with my wheelchair beside me, that is about something so much bigger than baby and I. In terms of what it can show for a path forward for other individuals, and, frankly, what it can do to help change perception of what’s possible.”
Weggemann, a 33-year-old due with her first child in March, covered the 50m butterfly in 41.54 seconds in the morning heats and 40.01 seconds in Friday’s finals, where athletes in different classifications swam in the same heats.
At the Tokyo Paralympics, Weggemann won silver in the 50m fly in 34.30 seconds (along with two other gold medals), but the time wasn’t so important on Friday.
“I knew it was less about the race and more about what the race and what doing it would stand for,” Weggemann said after her morning swim. “Just showcasing what women are capable of and what individuals with disabilities are capable of.”
Weggemann and her husband, Jay Snyder, detailed their journey through male factor infertility and IVF, which included Weggemann medically withdrawing from this past June’s world championships.
“Two egg retrievals, a microTESE surgery, hormonal treatment for suspected endometriosis, an unsuccessful transfer, a mock transfer cycle, an operative hysteroscopy and 440 injections (and counting),” she wrote in August in announcing her pregnancy to her social media followers. “It has taken science, the best care team there is and a lot of love and here we are with our little miracle on the way!”
Weggemann plans to return from childbirth to bid for a fourth Paralympics in Paris in 2024. It would be her latest comeback.
She swam at her first Paralympics — and won her first gold medal — four years after losing movement from the waist down while receiving epidural injections to treat shingles. She was 18 years old.
In 2014, Weggemann 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 at her second Paralympics in 2016.
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, Snyder slept for two weeks on a cot next to her hospital bed. She went 18 months between swimming. She made it back for the Tokyo Games, where she had her best medal haul yet — two golds and one silver.
What is left to accomplish at a fourth Paralympics?
“Win a gold medal as a mom,” she said. “I think about sitting on that podium with my husband and a little one in the stands.”
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