magazine-category: Alumni

We Get to Write Our Own Ending

Mallory Weggeman swimming

Paralympic Swimmer and Author, Mallory Weggemann Reflects on Her Journey

Contributing writer Shelley Stockton

Mallory Weggemann with American flag draped over her shouldersSitting atop the podium on Aug. 27, 2021, three-time Paralympic swimmer and former Gardner-Webb student-athlete, Mallory Weggemann won her first gold medal of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. After nearly nine years of working towards this moment, it was finally here.

Like so many things, COVID-19 postponed the Paralympic Games, leaving athletes wondering if and when they would get to compete. “Hearing our training facilities were closing, it really forced us to get more creative with our training,” Weggemann remembers. “At the same time, every single one of us worldwide faced it. This wasn’t just something I felt in Minnesota, or Team USA felt, every single athlete and every single person went through this experience together.”

After she completed the 200-meter individual medley (with Paralympic Gold), she said the emotion hit as she got out of the pool to do her interview with NBC. “They had my family live-streamed into the interview, and I got to see them moments after realizing this dream that we’ve all fought so hard for—it was that understanding that love has the ability to persevere.”

Her husband, Jay Snyder, stayed connected via FaceTime. “Being unable to be in Tokyo cheering on Mallory in the stands was incredibly difficult; however, we were so grateful that the Games were able to take place and the world was able to witness the transformative power of the Paralympic Movement,” Snyder said. “We certainly made sure Mallory could hear us all the way from Minnesota as we cheered her at 3 a.m.!”

Weggemann’s swimming coach Steve Van Dyne, who also coached her and her sisters in high school, shared his thoughts about her wins in Tokyo. “To come away with three medals says a lot about who she is and the hurdles she’s overcome,” Van Dyne said. “It’s the icing on the cake to the journey we’ve been on the past seven years.”

She would go on to win a second gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke and earned a Paralympic record along the way. Weggemann also brought home a silver medal in the 50-meter butterfly at the Tokyo Games.

It was a special moment to see her win gold and to see the smile on her face and the tears in her eyes.

Steve Van Dyne, coach

Weggemann’s journey back to the pool has not been an easy one. She started swimming competitively at seven years old, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters, but she hadn’t planned to continue beyond high school. However, at 18 years old, her life changed forever when an epidural to treat nerve pain brought on by shingles left her paralyzed from the waist down.

Mallory Weggemann in the poolShe was determined that paralysis wouldn’t defined her and describes her journey in her new book, “Limitless: The Power of Hope and Resilience to Overcome Circumstance.” Weggemann changed her story with the help of her family’s motto, “good overcomes,” and by accepting help.

“I was asking a number of people within the swimming community if they knew of any collegiate programs that were open to having an adaptive swimmer a part of their program; because, back in 2008, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for athletes with disabilities,” Weggemann said. “(GWU) was really receptive to having me a part of the team, and the disabilities program was phenomenal about figuring out how to make it all work and it seemed like the right fit.”

The University renovated one of the dorms to meet Weggemann’s needs and make her feel welcome. “They basically went into problem-solving mode over Christmas break and built a new entrance into one of the dorms for the lower floor, renovated one of the bathrooms on the main floors and made it wheelchair accessible, they did everything they could to make sure campus was ready for me when I arrived.”

Weggemann competed on the GW Division I swim team, and transferred to the University of Minnesota when she made the U.S. national team to be closer to home and to train with her former coach.

Mallory's book cover“My teammates there (at GW) met me and knew me as I was, they weren’t grieving the fact that I was newly paralyzed and that was really refreshing because I just got to find my stride,” Weggemann remembers. “It was a really, really powerful experience that, while short, was pivotal in my journey as I found a way to move forward after my injury.”

In 2012, she competed in her first Paralympics Games in London, winning a gold and bronze medal. “When I sat atop of that Paralympic podium for me it was that journey coming full circle,” Weggemann reflects. “That gold medal is going to forever hold a place in my heart because that truly was the moment where my world came together, and I got to feel light on the other side of what was otherwise an extremely challenging time in my life.”

A couple years after the London Games, Weggemann fell and permanently injured her left arm when an ADA shower bench at her hotel collapsed. She persevered through surgeries, rehab, and training to compete in the 2014 Rio Paralympic Games.

In between training for the next Games, Weggeman married Jay Snyder, her manager and business partner. For their wedding, she walked down the aisle, with the use of leg braces and crutches, with her dad just like she always dreamed.

The couple co-founded TFA Group, an agency and production studio striving to change the perception of disability in society through the power of storytelling. Language has an impact on messaging. She provides an example, “Does somebody incur or suffer from a spinal cord injury. Those two things mean very different things. One gives power to the individual and one takes it away.”

For more information on TFA Group and where to stream their content visit www.tfa-productions.com/#recent-work

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