by David Borzo
The real meaning of a tragic event is said to be the response, or rebirth that comes from it.
A hero is often described as someone who acts instinctively, jumping into risk without thinking about the consequences. But that’s not how it always is, and not in the case of Melissa Stockwell, the Iraqi war veteran, 2008 Paralympian and a 2010 Paratriathlon World Champion athlete. Her heroism has flourished for over eight years, a force borne from tragedy that drives her every day. Some look at the unfairness of their difficulties rather than the opportunities that lie within; perhaps it’s a true hero who contemplates both the difficulties and the opportunities – and then attacks them with clarity and passion. Melissa Stockwell is that hero.
Melissa made quite an impression on the Smart Talk Connected Conversations audience in Des Moines, the fourth SmartTalk speaker for this year. She detailed the dreadful story of the life changing injury in 2004, while she was Platoon Leader of a transportation unit near Baghdad. A roadside bomb blasted her Humvee, taking her left leg. Her response to that loss was courageous: she never dwelt on her injury, and instead feels like “one of the lucky ones” to be alive, and “…lucky to have lost only one leg” unlike many fellow soldiers who lost much more.
Melissa also impressed the Des Moines Civic Center crowd with her openness and honesty, freely sharing details of her victories, loses, loves, celebrations of life and her many legs (including one for running, one for biking and one for everyday use).
Her drive towards success is also a drive to help others in need, that’s why she co-founded Dare2tri, a Para triathlon club to help those who have suffered debilitating physical trauma. Dare2tri promotes embracing what you have, and making it work for you. That’s the central theme of Melissa’s message – celebrating life regardless of our limitations. Struggle is built into life and conflict is inevitable, but Melissa charges us to still living life to the fullest.
This commitment to life’s possibilities is illustrated in the film Warrior champions. From Bagdad to Beijing, a film highlighting during Melissa’s talk. It shows some of the challenges she has endured, as well as the stories of three other Para athletes as they pursue their dreams.
Melissa’s story is not one of those “happily ever after stories.” The hero doesn’t ride off into the sunset… and she’s not looking for that. No time to write her life story because she’s too busy building that life. She’s works for The Range of Motion Project, which allows her to help fit people with prosthetics; she is training for Para triathlon competition events on the world stage, and she speaks to groups all over the country. She feels she’s accomplished more in the last eight years than she imagined she would her whole life. Her inspiring SmartTalk presentation shows that Melissa is fulfilling the promise of her capabilities, a dynamic work in progress and a true hero for us all. Thank you for your service and commitment!
Images via warriorchampions.com