Mallory Weggemann: U.S. Paralympian, Swimming [With Audio Description]

Team USA Paralympians: Road to Tokyo

U.S. Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann was paralyzed from a medical procedure at age 18. She eventually returned to the pool to compete, taking home a gold medal in the Paralympic Games in 2012. Weggemann shares her inspirational story and her quest for a gold medal in Tokyo.

Video contains audio description.

Posted on:

July 15, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: In January of 2008, Mallory Weggemann, a competitive swimmer since the age of seven, was permanently paralyzed by a routine medical procedure to treat back pain. Only three months later, Mallory made the decision to return to the pool and to compete. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. She took home gold in the 2012 Paralympic Games. And today Mallory joins me to share her inspirational story and her quest for Paralympic gold in Tokyo. And just a little note to our viewers that Comcast NBCUniversal is the U.S. rights holder to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. And with that, Mallory, thank you so much for being here.

Weggemann: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Anderson: So, you have won gold, you've won silver, you've won bronze. You've broken over 30 records. Where do you get the drive?

Weggemann: You know, Tetiana, for me, I really think so much of it comes in from understanding my purpose, right? When you know why you get out of bed every day, it makes it that much easier to keep showing up for the fight. And so at this stage in my career, so much of what continues to drive me forward is knowing that when I get behind the starting blocks and I get ready to race, I'm representing something so much larger than myself. And it's my goal that through my career, I can pave a path forward so our next generation doesn't have to ask, "What about me?"

Anderson: And sort of to that point, you didn't even know about the Paralympic Games before you actually became eligible to compete in them. And since that time, what have you learned about what's so valuable about the games themselves to everyone, regardless of physical ability?

Weggemann: When I was paralyzed at the age of 18, I had no idea that the Paralympic movement existed. I was completely unfamiliar with adaptive sports and fortunately for me, it came into my life kind of by chance. It was just a local newspaper article not too long after I was released from the hospital. And I went and I watched the 2008 Beijing Paralympic trials for swimming here in Minnesota, at the University of Minnesota. And for me, that was an eye-opening experience because it allowed me to start to change my own perception of how I viewed disability. And I think that's the root of it, whether you have a disability or not. Understanding that our society is so much larger and realizing that when we see sport before us, we get to watch something play out in a way that completely, especially in the Paralympic movement, changes our perception of what we view to be possible. And that's what I love about the Paralympic movement. It did that for me as a young individual who was looking for that path forward. I think it does it for other individuals who are in this similar boat of living with a disability. But it does it for people who don't [audio drop] and are just avid viewers.

Anderson: So, speaking of viewers, you wrote about the idea that in the 2012 games there were some 2.7 million tickets sold to those events. They garnered massive international attention. But American media was still sort of lagging behind. What, if anything, has changed between that time and the Tokyo Games in America's appetite to follow these athletes?

Weggemann: We have seen so much change since the London 2012 Games. I mean, really since Beijing, but the biggest jump has been from London to now here where we are going into Tokyo and seeing the excitement and enthusiasm in media coverage, seeing the sponsor support, seeing the U.S. Olympic Committee change their name to be the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. And through that, we're building an entire new fan base that's gonna move us forward as we march towards the L.A. 2028 games, which is so exciting. And again, for the Paralympic movement, more eyeballs means more chances to continue to change perception of what disability looks like and continue to expose people to what's possible.

Anderson: What would you say to that young man or that young woman who is navigating a fundamental physical life change the way you did?

Weggemann: I think, in so many ways, we're all navigating life changes right now. We've faced something that we never saw coming over this past year, year and a half now in our society. And it's leaving us all kind of wondering what's next, at moments. And so I think whether something small or something large like becoming paralyzed or having everything you know change through loss or trauma, understanding that our now doesn't define what's to come and that while right now might bring uncertainty and maybe some heartbreak and loss, there is light in this tunnel that we're in, and there's light at the end of it as well. And leaning into that and understanding that it's not the circumstances and it's not the moments in life that define who we are, but ultimately how we choose to react.

Anderson: And what about you, Mallory? What's next after Tokyo?

Weggemann: I am so beyond excited to hopefully start my journey to becoming a mom. This has been a long-awaited dream for me and with the postponement of the games, it became a little bit longer than we anticipated. And so I'm looking forward to that next phase in my journey, and then ultimately, hopefully going to Paris as a mama.

Anderson: Paralympic gold medalist Mallory Weggemann, thank you so much for being here.

Weggemann: Thank you so much for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. And you can see Mallory and Team USA compete at the Paralympics in Tokyo on the networks of NBCUniversal. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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