2012 Paralympic Games: Putting one foot in front of the other

It’s easy to be inspired by Mallory Weggemann.

She literally swims laps around people like you and me – and does so using only half her body.

On Jan. 21, 2008, the girl who had spent more than a decade in a pool was paralyzed from the waist down after receiving an epidural injection to treat back pain. She was 18.

Three months later, Mallory, 23, was back in the pool as if she’d never left. That summer, she was competing. In no time, she was winning.

In two days, Mallory – the daughter of Ann Weggeman, an RN at Children’s PACU in St. Paul — will compete again, this time on the biggest international stage. She’ll be vying for gold in nine events at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. The Paralympic Games are held parallel to the Olympic Games and are for athletes with physical disabilities.

“I’ve used the word ‘surreal a lot,” Ann says to describe her youngest daughter’s Paralympic debut.

Says her dad, Chris, “As a parent, it’s a pretty proud moment…It’s the ultimate swim meet.”

Mallory’s parents, siblings, brother-in-law, agent, coach, boyfriend Ryan and family friends will all be there to watch her.

Mallory is one of the most sponsored and decorated disabled athletes in the United States. She is sponsored by well-known companies including BMW, P&G, ZICO and Deloitte. In 2011, she was an ESPN ESPY winner for best female athlete with a disability. She holds 15 world records.

But it’s not her world records that make her family most proud. It’s how she uses them. Mallory’s success helps her help others. It’s given her a platform to share her story. She has spoken around the world. Some people wouldn’t be competing in disabled sport had it not been, in large part, for Mallory’s encouragement, Chris says.

It’s the impact she has on others that makes him proud.

Of the Paralympics, Ann and Chris wish the event was more visible. But to watch, you’ll have to go online. Unlike the Olympics, it won’t be broadcast on network TV in the United States.

“There are 4,200 incredible stories. Everyone has this journey to get there,” Ann says.

If anything, Ann and Chris hope Mallory will continue inspiring children and teens with a disability. In Mallory’s case, her paralysis has opened more doors than it’s closed.

“She doesn’t see herself as disabled; she just has to do things differently,” Chris says. “You have to put one foot in front of the other, even if you can’t move them.”

Follow Mallory during the Paralympics on her website, Facebook and blog, where the Weggemanns will post updates throughout the Games.

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