Barely two months after a bicycle crash that put her in the hospital, triathlete Melissa Stockwell is back at it, and ready to compete in the Summer Paralympics, in Tokyo, Japan.
The incedent, which happened just before the July 4th weekend, left the 41-year-old Iraq war veteran with more than just scratches. After being admitted to hospital nearby her home in Colorado, Stockwell announced her accident and later that she had suffer an array of injuries while also bruising her pelvis and fracturing her L2 and L3 vertebrae.
Stockwell’s Instagram post then was not without a little levity, as she assured fans that she would be back to training as soon as possible.
“I like to think I’m tough but man, trees hurt!” she said in her post.
Yet, Stockwell made a quick recovery, and after over two weeks of abstaining from practice she bounced right back into training for Tokyo. Initially after her discharge, Stockwell said she focused her efforts on workouts that did not entail the impact that comes with hours of long-distance running.
“Right away, I was able to swim and then bike, and really push it on the bike—and I was biking more than I ever have,” Stockwell said in our interview over Zoom on August 3. “My swim times have gotten even faster somehow, maybe because I was not running and taxing myself as much there.”
By early August, Stockwell was mostly back to normal, going through the grueling daily workouts that she says she actually enjoys. When I spoke to her prior to Memorial Day 2021, Stockwell said then that she was faster than ever.
Leading up to Tokyo, Stockwell’s foundation called Dare2Tri was selected by consumer products company Proctor & Gamble as a partner in its Athletes for Good Fund. Through Athletes for Good, P&G aims to support individuals with physical disabilities and visual impairments in undertaking athletics pursuit such as swimming, biking and running. In the mix, the partnership also awarded a series of $10,000 grants to help further develop and assist athletes who want to make the Paralympics and other competitions a goal.
Prior to taking up a career as an athlete Stockwell served in the military. While deployed as first lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, Stockwell became the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War, in the spring of 2004. After returning home Stockwell was awarded both a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. And shortly after that Stockwell competed her in first swim meet in June 2005.
This week as the 2020 Paralympic Games kicks off, Stockwell, a bronze medalist in the triathlon at Rio 2106, has been selected as one of Team USA’s ceremonial flag bearers, along with three-time wheelchair rugby player Chuck Aoki.
Gearing up for her final stretch prior to boarding her flight for Tokyo, Stockwell shared more about how she prepared in the final week, as well as her mentality in overcoming obstacles.
Andy Frye: So, what was your training regimen like post-injury, in the final weeks leading up to the Paralympic Games?
Melissa Stockwell: Not much changes from the normal training. We’ve been in sort of a hard block of training and have had a (Team USA) pre-camp, but the training doesn’t taper down at all. Until we arrive in Tokyo around the 22nd, there’s still big block of training, averaging 16 to 18 training hours a week.
AF: What do you do for 18 hours a week? What about rest time?
Stockwell: We swim five days a week, with Tuesday and Friday our hard days in the pool. The other days are still pretty intensive. Thursdays are my hard bike day with some running and Monday is the hardest run day.
Right after my bike crash I had been doing a lot of aqua jogging, using one of those flotation devices moving my legs (in the pool) just like running. The impact of running is still pretty great, and the injury has been such that if I don’t let it heal, it could impact my performance later.
But to answer your question, we get some easier days to balance out our hard days, to recover from the hardest days.
AF: You’ve mentioned coaches and how they push you beyond your perceived limits. How do set and accomplish new goals?
Stockwell: Derick Williamson is my coach, and he’s Team USA’s resident coach at the Paralympic training center. He coaches all of us. Some of us are direct competitors and some of us are not in the same competitions. But all of have some sort of physical disability and are training to compete in Tokyo.
A majority of us qualified for Tokyo and that’s a credit to his coaching style and ability to push us. He gives us times and I think “there’s no way I can do that’ but I get the workout in and do it.
He has a way to assess our capabilities more than we can, and he gives us workouts which seem impossible, but we achieve them by pushing a little bit harder each time. I’m fortunate to have him ahead of Tokyo.
AF: Give us fans an example of your “impossible” workouts.
Stockwell: OK, so for example, one of our run workouts Derick could give me a 3-mile time in what I would normally run a 5-mile. Or I would run a 7-minute pace in what would normally take 7:30. So, I get off the treadmill and my confidence is soaring.
It just goes to show that sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we really can accomplish, even in a training session or everyday workout.