Melissa Stockwell aims for podium in Tokyo

Paralympian Melissa Stockwell knew early on in life she wanted to join the United States military.

“It sounds cheesy, but I loved our country from a very young age,” Stockwell said.

However, serving in the military put Stockwell on a path she could have never anticipated. In 2004, she lost her leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq. She’s the first female American solider to lose a limb in active combat, but just four years later, Stockwell became the first Iraqi war veteran to qualify for the Paralympic games when she competed in swimming in Beijing.

“The choice to accept the lose of my leg propelled me in a life I never could have imagined,” she said. “I made that conscious choice to choose to accept it, to move on.”

The choice to move forward has made Stockwell an inspiration to so many. She even wrote a book called The Power of Choice, recounting her experience from an amputee to a world champion. Her story of perseverance led her to medaling at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

“I’ve done more in my life with one leg than I would have ever done with two,” she said. “If I could go back I would do it again. The people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve had, I wouldn’t be living the life that I am if it weren’t for that moment in Iraq where I lost my leg, so I think things happen for a reason and this was meant to be.”

Along with a bronze medal in Rio, Stockwell is a three-time ITU Paratriathlon World Champion with consecutive titles from 2010 to 2012. While the uniform has changed since her deployment in Iraq, the country Stockwell represents is something she’ll never take for granted.

“Being able to wear that uniform that has USA on it and represent the country I defended over in Iraq. I am such a proud paralympian. I think it just shows what we can overcome with the power of the human body and the human spirit and I’m just so proud of where my story has brought me.”