Champion Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann believes everything happens for a reason
Once convinced she would never swim again, Mallory Weggemann is now breaking world records and able to say she would not change the day she became paralyzed.
"January 21st 2008 is a day I will never forget. In a moment my world was forever changed," the competitive swimmer says in a TED talk.
She had been swimming since age 7, then two months before her 19th birthday she received a routine pain-relief epidural injection which tragically cut off movement from her abdomen down.
"For weeks, I felt weak," she describes. "I was scared, I was fearful, I was lost, and I was uncertain.
"I had been through a lot with my family, and I thought, 'Why can't we just catch a break?'
"I quickly realized that everything happens for a reason."
Just three months later she was swimming again. From that first taste back in the water, Mallory was unstoppable.
"Swimming quickly became my safe haven," she says. "It was my sanctuary, and it gave me a renewed zest for life I had been searching for.
"I didn't feel paralyzed. I was moving forward for the first time in months without a wheelchair strapped to me."
Sixteen months later she broke her first set of world records at the 2009 Can Am Speedo Para-swim Meet and she now holds 34 American records, 15 world records, and is the record holder and gold medalist for the 2012 Paralympic 50 meter freestyle.
The world media highlighted that 2012 race as one of the most memorable and inspiring moments of the London Games.
Mallory had been notified on the eve of the Opening Ceremony she was being reclassified to the S8 category for the event, where she would face competitors with far less physical impairments than hers.
The look of astonished joy on her face when she finished first suggests she was as surprised by the outcome as audiences were.
Mallory's achievements are rendered more impressive by the number of setbacks she has had to endure.
Aside from adjusting to life in a wheelchair, she suffered a severe injury to her left arm in 2014, which she feared would be permanent.
She missed the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, and trained with an uncomfortable brace once she was able to get back in the water.
Her hardships frequently led Mallory to ask why she had to go through all this — particularly in the months after her paralysis.
Raised in a Christian home, she says she began to question why God let bad things happen to good people.
"It tested my faith and left me wondering, 'why me?' " she says.
"But as I have moved forward, I find that things happen for a reason, and I truly believe that God has a plan for all of us. You have to trust in that and have faith in that."
She has come to recognise the value of her journey and says she does not regret what happened to her.
"I do feel like the life I am living now is more rewarding than four years ago," she says. "I wouldn't change that day; I would love to walk again some day, but I wouldn't take back that journey I've been on.
"That day and those that followed, though they were extremely difficult, had a great impact on my faith and my family.
"It really did test me and make me stronger; it made me go beneath the surface of my faith and figure it out more.
"In everything I do in daily life, struggles and all, I believe we have a plan. When I have those days that are hard, I just have to believe that God will make my best that day enough, and that's all I can hope for and give to it. Though I may not understand or agree with the plan, we all have to have faith in the fact that in the end it will work out."
Mallory did walk again in 2013 with the help of customized leg braces and forearm crutches. She continues to astound and inspire with her resilience and fighter mindset. •