Mallory Weggemann, who won gold during the 2012 London Paralympics, will receive the Good Neighbor Inspirational Award by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce on May 15th.
The inaugural award is going to both Weggemann and another Paralympian, mono-skier Arly Velásquez. According to the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the award is being given to both athletes for their remarkable strength and perseverance.
Complications from a 2008 injection for back pain left Weggemann paralyzed from the waist down. However, as a long-time swimmer, that didnt stop her: Weggemann continued competing in the pool and has broken multiple world records in the S7 athletic classification. Even when she was reclassified as S8 immediately before the 2012 Paralympic Games, Weggemann earned gold in the 50m freestyle, setting a Paralympic record.
Weggemann spoke to VOXXI about her thoughts on the upcoming Good Neighbor Award, overcoming obstacles and believing in herself.
A Message of Inspiration
When the Paralympic swimmer found out she would receive the inaugural Good Neighbor Inspirational Award, she was excited and shocked and honored all at the same time.
To be one of the first recipients is pretty amazing and incredibly humbling. Its been six years since my paralysis, and the five years as an athlete has been a really crazy journey. So to be given an award like this is really exciting.
The award is especially meaningful to Weggemann because the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce chose recipients based on their role as an inspiration to others:
I try to be an inspiration each and every day, so to receive an actual inspiration award is amazing. One of the things Ive become incredibly passionate about is the Paralympic movement I think that the biggest thing that the Paralympic movement offers is hope for individuals. Not everybody is going to become an Olympic or Paralympic athlete, but its about using the power of sports to inspire individuals and motivate individuals, especially those with disabilities.
Most of us dont dream of becoming an Olympic-level athlete, let alone making that journey after paralysis. Weggemann spoke at length about how she tackled that challenge, as well as offering advice for others facing obstacles.
You can still do everything: you can have whatever dreams and goals you want to have. I might do things a little differently now than I did them before my injury, but its not that I cant do them. Thats an important thing to remember, for me. We all have disabilitiesmine is very visiblebut whether you actually have a disability or notand it could be mental, spiritual, financialwe all have those things that hold us back.
Weggemann explained that having a positive outlook is a choice: Were all human and were all going to have setbacks, but at the end of the day you have to allow yourself to move forward. Its not the circumstances that define who we are, its how you react to them…it comes down to a series of choices.
I just hope that through the award and life in general, I can inspire individuals to realize you can do whatever you put your mind to; theres no obstacle too big to overcome.
Winning in London
One of those challenges, for Weggemann, was the London Games.
Discussing her reclassification upon arriving in England, the swimmer said that the experience was one of the larger adversities she had ever faced.
Weggemann explained that being classed into S8 meant that she had never raced the girls in that class before, and I was racing girls that had leg function, and Im a complete paraplegic, so I was very nervous about it. My competition events changed, the times changes, everything that I knew and that I had prepared for changed I was just so frustrated and hurt and upset, and I didnt think Id be able to swim.
But I let the emotions subside and I realized I would still be able to compete for Team USA. So I just did everything I could, controlled what I could control, and went out and did my best. And that one gold medal means so much more to me than any other number because theres so much more to it: its hope and determination and being able to overcome.
The Paralympic swimmer plans to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games after healing from a current minor injury. Given the determination and courage that earned her the Good Neighbor Award, it seems were likely to hear a lot more from Mallory Weggemann in the next few years.
The U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce will present the Good Neighbor Inspirational Awards this Thursday, May 15th, in Washington, D.C.