Mallory Weggemann: Proving Setbacks Are Temporary

Photo Courtesy: FINIS

January 21, 2008, was like any other winter day in Minneapolis, Minnesota – a balmy four degrees outside. That day, Mallory Weggemann was on her way to the doctor to get a routine epidural injection to treat post-shingles back pain. But something didn’t go so “routinely” that day, and results of that injection would change her life forever. Mallory Weggemann left that doctor’s office paralyzed from her waist down.

“There was a lot of uncertainty and fear about my future,” says Weggemann about her initial reaction to the news. “I think my biggest realization was that I wasn’t going to be able to walk home that day.”

This fear and uncertainty left Weggemann in a sort of identity crisis as she attempted to become comfortable in her own skin, while adjusting to a new way of life.

In order to motivate herself to get back to being her old self, she made a list of things she wanted to do when she was able to walk again. On that list was getting back into the water.

“I was actually terrified of the water after my paralysis,” recalls Weggemann, who began swimming at the age of seven. “Swimming had been a part of my life for so long, but I was so scared to get back in.”

In April 2008, Mallory was exposed to the Paralympic movement for the very first time. Her oldest sister, Christin, and her attended the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials being held at the University of Minnesota, just a short 15 miles from her hometown of Eagan, Minnesota.

On April 8, 2008, less than a week after attending the trials, Mallory was ready to get back in the water. With her dad on the pool deck and Jim Andersen, her new coach whom she had met at the trials, watching from the deck, Mallory slid into the water and started to swim.

“I finally felt at home again and comfortable in my own skin,” said Weggemann. “I will never forget those first five or six strokes. It was so freeing, both physically and emotionally. That day I realized that there were things that I could do on my list, and that I didn’t necessarily have to walk to make them happen.”

Between that spring day in 2008 and August 2012, Mallory became a star in the sport. She wrapped up an impressive 13 world titles, 34 American records, 15 world records, three Disability Swimmer of the Year awards, and even an ESPY Award – all before her first Paralympic Games. All signs pointed to a big medal haul at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

Weggemann dominated the 2012 U.S. Paralympic Trials and raced her way to a loaded event schedule for London. With sights set on becoming one of the most decorated Paralympians at the games, she suffered yet another setback.

On the eve of the opening ceremonies, Mallory was notified that she was being reclassified to the S8 category, where she would face competitors with far less physical impairments than hers. Having to face reality, Weggemann knew that this would challenge both her physical toughness and her mental toughness.

“It definitely threw me off a little bit, but I knew that I had put in the work behind it to still go out there and perform at high level.”

That is exactly what Weggemann did. She went on to take the bronze in the 4×100 medley relay, and took gold in the 50-meter freestyle. It was an extremely impressive feat for her, after receiving that shocking news the night before the Games began. She became a national inspiration.

Mallory Weggemann

Photo Courtesy: Andrew Fielding/USA Today Sports

“The 2012 Paralympic Games definitely left me hungry and determined, there is still a lot of work to do but I have lofty goals and I was confident in my training moving forward.”

On March 5, 2014, Weggemann faced yet another hardship. While showering in a hotel in New York City Weggemann sustained a serve injury to her left arm after the ADA shower bench she was using collapsed out from underneath her. Unfortunately, just weeks before she left for the 2015 ParaPan American Games, Weggemann was notified by her doctors that the injuries she sustained to her arm in March 2014 are permanent. However, just like following her injury in January 2008, Weggemann has allowed herself to turn to the pool.

“It was those similar feelings of fear and uncertainty,” Weggemann said, referring to her original paralysis diagnosis. “This time I feared the injury would push me into retirement.”

It was the third straight year that she had suffered some sort of setback. That May, Mallory recalls having a complete breakdown.

“The doctors were just unsure when it was going to heal, and training had been going so well leading up towards 2016,” said Weggemann. “But swimming is what I go to when hardship strikes.”

Weggemann was forced to miss the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, which was to be her first major international competition since London. In coming back to competition for the first time since her arm injury, Weggemann competed at Can Am Championships in March, which served at the trials meet for the 2015 IPC World Championships and 2015 Parapan American Games. Following her performance, Weggemann was named to the 2015 ParaPan American Games roster for Team USA and earned a spot back on the US Paralympic Swimming National team.

Despite the recent news that Weggemann received weeks before leaving for the Toronto 2015 ParaPan American Games, she was still confident and anticipating a strong showing for her first time competing internationally since the London 2012 Games.

“I learned how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” said Weggemann in reference to having to train with a brace on her left arm and fight through injury. “I knew that I was going to see it [Parapan American Games] through. Every day I would give what I had to give. I made a pact with myself that I would give it my all.”

Weggemann was entered in a full event load for the competition in Toronto, including some new events. On day one of competition, she was entered in one of those new events, the 100-meter backstroke. With her arm injury, she was forced to change her start, a crucial part of the race for her. In the finals, Mallory dropped an astounding nine seconds to take the bronze medal. From then on, she was in the zone.

The next day, Mallory was faced with a tough 400-meter freestyle and 50-meter freestyle double. She took silvers in both of the events to bring her total medal haul to three in three events.

Mallory Weggemann-silver-parapan-am-games

After a few days rest, Mallory was set to try what was scheduled to be the biggest question mark on her schedule – the 200-meter individual medley. By starting with butterfly, Weggemann’s arm injury was going to test her toughness.

“I remember going into the meet and talking with my coach and we said that this event might be too tough and painful for my arm and thought that we might eventually scratch it.”

It was good that she didn’t scratch the event, as Mallory took the gold medal in the finals that evening, finishing in Parapan American record time. She ended up riding that momentum to another gold and Parapan American record just two nights later in the 100-meter freestyle.

Mallory Weggemann 2015 Parapan Am Games

In total, she finished with five medals in five events, including two golds and two Games records coming in her final two events.

Weggemann returned to her hometown in Minnesota this week, physically and emotionally drained, but was back in the water right away training for the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

“I have incredibly lofty goals set for 2016 and the Parapan Am Games gave me the confidence that what my coach and I are doing is working and that it can work again.”

With renewed confidence and another year of training under her belt, Mallory is excited that she is back competing at a high level. She mentions that she understands how competitive it will be to win a large medal total in Rio next summer, but also says that she is just enjoying being back in the water.

“Swimming didn’t answer all my questions or problems, but being in the water makes me feel at home. And that’s where I find my happiness!”

The above article is a press release submitted to Swimming World. To reach our audience, contact us at newsmaster@swimmingworld.com.

3 comments

  1. avatar
    Rob

    Umm… Gotta say it – Smoke. Show. Whoa…

    Damn fast swimmer to boot!

  2. avatar
    Kaitlynn

    Made my day, she is such an inspiration!

  3. Ada yarovaya

    Какая симпатичная девушка! Обаятельная!