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This Monday, April 18th is the 2022 Boston Marathon. Having the ability to complete a marathon is a pretty good indicator of a healthy life. One Colorado Springs woman will be running in her first Boston Marathon. This won’t be her first marathon, and it’s fair to say she’s not your average marathoner.
Para-triathlete Melissa Stockwell says she's ditching her swimsuit and bike for this iconic event. “It’s the Boston Marathon! People dream about this race, it’s like their life‘s dream to run it. Now, here I am having the opportunity to do it - so it’s pretty amazing.”
After winning a bronze in triathlon in the 2016 Rio Paralympic games, her next Paralympic target was Tokyo in 2020, but because of COVID those games were pushed to 2021, and besides dealing with the one-year delay, Melissa says she had to face other challenges heading into the competition. “I broke my back about eight weeks before the actual race at the Tokyo Paralympics. I couldn’t run for about two months.” Having to rest and heal, through the weeks when her training should have been hitting its stride was less than ideal. But she was cleared to compete and made the best of it finishing 5th.
That forced time off from running ahead of the Tokyo games was in a way the genesis of Melissa’s desire to tackle the Boston Marathon. Melissa says, “When I started to run again I loved it! I fell in love with running and I felt like ‘I can’t get enough of it.’ So I figured, ‘Let’s do something about it.’ And Boston was the earliest marathon on the calendar.”
This race is also a draw for Melissa beyond its rich history and the challenge of the hilly course. Melissa says, “In 2013 after the Boston bombings I was able to travel to Boston to meet some of the survivors, and some of the newer amputees thanks to an organization called the Semper Fi Fund. They brought some veteran amputee types to meet some of those survivors from the bombing and so running this race has always been in my mind.”
Unlike her training for the Tokyo Paralympics, this time around Melissa says her training has gone according to plan and she feels ready to go. “The peak of my training is pretty much done now. I ran the furthest I have ever run last week, 50 miles total so it’s going really well. I'm really enjoying the longer miles and the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other.”
It was eighteen years ago on Wednesday, April 13th, 2004 that Melissa’s life was forever changed. She was serving in the Army and was stationed in Iraq. On her webpage, she says, “When I woke up in the Baghdad ER on April 13, 2004, the furthest thing from my mind was being a Paralympian. At the time, I didn't even know what that word meant. After 24 years of having both my legs, I was suddenly missing one, taken from me by a roadside bomb on the streets of Iraq.” Melissa was the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War.
On Wednesday this week, she posted on social media a happy birthday to what she calls her little leg, saying "It's been 18 years of doing more in my life with one leg than I ever would have done with 2 legs. 18 years of living, loving and finding joy in the smallest of things."
Melissa has also conquered big things. She is a three-time world para-triathlon champion and a Paralympic bronze medalist. Through it all, she’s challenged herself and has found purpose and joy.
Her attitude in life is an example, that similar joy and the same sense of accomplishment in your life is possible, and Melissa says you don't need to tackle a marathon or be an elite athlete in the process. “My advice would be that you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or Paralympic athlete, not everyone is going to set out to do that. You don’t have to be an elite-level athlete to get outside and go on a bike ride with your kids, or to think about a 5K, that’s 3.1 miles. If something like that feels daunting and you think, “I could never do that.’ Let me be the first to tell you - you can. You just have to get up and make it happen. Maybe the first day you walk a half mile and the second day you jog for twenty seconds, and then you walk again. If you find the right program you can build up to it. Just imagine how amazing it will be when you get out there and complete that 5K or whatever it may be.”
That advice comes from first-hand experience of how Melissa has approached her life in the eighteen years since losing her leg, an experience most would likely view as a disability. Melissa says, “I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit on the things we may be capable of doing in general. As far as fitness goals and getting out there and being active, it’s like once you get started and you look back you’ll think, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t always do this.’ It helps you mentally, and physically, and for me, it brings a whole new perspective and adds joy to life.”
When I asked Melissa if she could imagine her life without fitness and exercise, she quickly replied, “No - I don’t know what I would do, I can’t imagine one day without it, much less life.”
In our next story, Melissa shares her goals for the Boston Marathon and talks about what she is most looking forward to in running this iconic race.
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