By Dan Heyman
She lost a leg in Baghdad but went on to be a world champion athlete, and now Melissa Stockwell is coming to West Virginia this week. She’ll talk about how she went “from Baghdad to Beijing,” as she puts it. A young military officer when she was injured by an IED, Stockwell was the first American woman soldier to lose a limb in combat. In spite of that, she went on to win the paratriathlon world championship three times.
She says she has a fairly simple message for people here who might benefit from it. “Veterans and anyone with a disability: there are so many opportunities,” she declared. “Try something that you don’t think that you can do, and you’ll be surprised. Try to focus on the good instead of the bad, what you have instead of what you don’t have.”
Stockwell will deliver the keynote address at the Spring Conference of the National Association of Social Workers, West Virginia Chapter. That’s the largest conference of its kind in the country.
Stockwell says she was always an athlete, and when she was young she dreamt of going to the Olympics. She says one key part of her later success was that after her injury she didn’t dwell on what she’d lost.
“I chose to accept the loss of my leg within days after I lost it,” she stated. “Too many people sit there and ‘what if?’ The fact is you can’t change what happened. I was happy with me and not somebody else, and I really knew from pretty early on that things were going to be OK.”
For her fellow vets, Stockwell recommends looking to the future, even if the past has been rough. “West Virginia, I guarantee, has veterans’ groups, support groups. And to reach out to know that you are not alone that there are other people out there going through the same things that you are” is essential, she said.
Stockwell’s speech was given Apr. 30, in the South Hall of the Charleston Civic Center.