While training for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic triathlon, Melissa Stockwell faced a bit of a setback. The athlete was involved in a bicycle crash in which she fractured three of her lower vertebrae.
"It hasn’t been easy," Melissa exclusively told Distractify ahead of the 2020 Summer Games. "Mentally it was hard. For a few weeks it was so painful. ... I was literally sitting on the couch and my workout for the day was to just sit there and let myself heal."
The Paralympian explained that she was able to get back into the pool first and is hoping that her "adrenaline will take over" during the running portion of the race. But no matter the outcome, Melissa is determined to see "this dream through to completion" and is not ready to let anything stand in her way.
The 41-year-old athlete opened up to Distractify about facing pressure as a professional athlete and being a symbol.
Paralympic triathlete Melissa Stockwell talks upcoming Summer Games: "The pressure is there."
Overcoming obstacles in her life is something Melissa knows all too well.
In 2004, Melissa served in the United States Army and was deployed to Iraq. Just one month later, the Second Lieutenant lost her leg after her vehicle was struck by a roadside bomber.
Four years later, the Iraq War veteran qualified and competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
"I do what I do because I love it," Melissa, who started the foundation Dare2Tri, said when asked about being a symbol for people with disabilities. "I push myself and see what I can do. If that, in turn, inspires the next generation … that’s just kind of the added bonus to all of it."
"The hope is that everyone realizes how much choice they have in their own life and the things that they’re capable of doing and they get out there and see," she added.
Like most professional athletes, Melissa also feels a sense of pressure to perform well.
"For me, I don’t necessarily think I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, but I have the weight of myself, family, friends, sponsors ... I want to do well for them also," she told Distractify. "The pressure is there. You want to go and you want to do well. You never want to cross that finish line thinking that you could have done better."
During this Summer Games, mental health has been an ongoing conversation after U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles dropped out of the women's team final and several other events.
"Mental health plays such a key role in the success of anyone, but especially of an athlete," Melissa said. "Before you race, I can’t tell you how many people say, 'Go for the gold. Go get the gold.’ If you don’t get that gold, I hope they’re still happy for me."
"I made it here. I’m here. There’s so much stigma behind the need to go and get gold," she continued. "What about the silver and the bronze or just making it that far because that’s a feat in and of itself. The pressure behind it is a lot."
Dare2Tri was selected as a recipient of P&G’s Athletes for Good Fund which awards $10,000 grants to charitable organizations supported by Olympic and Paralympic athletes.