Two-Time Paralympic Triathlete Melissa Stockwell on Staying Positive, Games Training and the Importance of a Wellness Routine

Two-Time Paralympic Triathlete Melissa Stockwell on Staying Positive, Games Training and the Importance of a Wellness Routine featured image
Harry How / Staff / Getty Images

Announced today, P&G’s newest Olympic Games campaign was inspired by the impact athletes have beyond the field, track or pool. Along with two films for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, including Love Leads to Good (below), P&G also introduces the Athletes for Good Fund, which awards more than $500,000 in grants to the charitable causes supported by Olympic and Paralympic athletes. 

“Over the past decade, we have been honored and humbled to tell the stories of amazing athletes and the families who’ve supported them on the journey to their Olympic and Paralympic dreams,” said P&G chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard.

After speaking with two-time Paralympic triathlete, former Army officer and mother of two Melissa Stockwell, it’s impossible to feel anything but inspired. As the first female soldier to lose a limb in active combat while serving in Iraq, Stockwell refuses to let that define her. Ahead, she dishes on how she stays so positive, the importance of a well-rounded wellness routine and how she’s prepping for July’s Games.

Tell me about your start with athletics. Did you ever imagine you’d be a Paralympian and such a role model?

“No [laughs]. I think if you were to have told me 20 years ago that I was going to lose a leg and go on and compete in the Paralympic Games and be this role model, in no way would I have believed you. 

I was a big gymnast growing up, so sports have always been a really big part of my life. I had dreamt of going to the Olympics as a gymnast, and obviously that didn’t happen, but it was kind of like I had a second shot at going to the Olympics through the Paralympics. It was this goal that became a really big dream early on, and to be able to make that a reality through two Paralympic Games, wear a uniform for a country that I’m so passionate about, one that I defended over in Iraq, is everything to me. Athletics truly is a way of life. It’s given me self-confidence, self-worth after losing my leg of what’s still out there and possible. I’m proud to live a life of sport.”

You’ve been an athlete with an injury and without. What is the biggest misconception we have about those living with disabilities and what can we do to shift that thinking?

“I did this, too, before I had a disability myself, but it’s almost like you see somebody in the community who is maybe in a wheelchair or missing an arm or a leg or is visually impaired and you think, ‘Poor them, their life must be tough.’ But the reality of it is that they’re just like you and I are. They have found a way to thrive in their life regardless of the disability that they have. You should never go and tell someone, ‘Oh I’m so proud that you’re out getting groceries,’ because that’s just a normal day-to-day thing that they do, just like everyone does. Just because we have a disability doesn’t mean we’re sitting in a room with the lights off feeling sorry for ourselves. We are out there living a full, full, active, thriving life. 

As far as the Paralympic Games go, I think a lot of people don’t think that we train as hard as they [Olympic athletes] do. We are competing against athletes just as much as Olympic athletes are, we spend just as much time training and sacrificing other things so we can go out there and train and be the best athletes we can be, so we absolutely put just as much into it as Olympic athletes do.”

Melissa Stockwell

From your Army background to your injury, you’ve faced so much trial but you are such a positive person. How do you stay so positive when faced with something so life-altering?

“I think about how lucky I am to have the things that I have. For some reason we go to bed at night and think about the negative things that happened throughout the day, what could have gone right, what didn’t go right, but I turn that around and think about all of the good things that I have. So through the pandemic, it was something as little as laying in bed and being thankful to have a warm bed to sleep in, to have food on the table, to have a roof over my head, and after losing a leg, there were so many others that were worse off than I was. They had lost two, three, four limbs, they had brain injuries, they lost eyesight, and I truly consider myself one of the lucky ones because all I lost was one leg. 

Losing a leg has led me into this life that I never could have imagined of being an elite-level athlete, being married to an amazing husband, having two amazing children and being a mother to them—the best job in the world—and celebrating the role that we have as parents to raise our children to be good people. That’s really the core of P&G’s new film, Love Leads to Good, just showing how important it is for a mother and a parent to be in a child’s life. So just to have all that, I’m so thankful where my life has come.”

After such a turbulent year, how do you keep up with a wellness routine and what does that look like for you? 

“I think wellness is different for everybody. For some people, it’s their skin-care routine at night. For others, wellness means keeping your body healthy. So for me as an athlete, the majority of it is keeping my body healthy. I’m a very proud 41-year-old, but I am 41 and my body is aging, so having to keep up with that with things like stretching or massage or sports medicine on any injuries that I have and staying on top of those. 

But at the same time, when I see pictures I do see my age, so I’ve been wanting to tackle that at the same time, so thankfully there are some products that I’ve used, like the Olay Retinol for nighttime, so I’ve just been trying to stay on top of that. We all look at ourselves and we see the wrinkles, and while the wrinkles gave me a very good life and I’m very proud of them, we do want to kind of combat that as well.”

Do you have any self-care practices or rituals that bring you a sense of calm? 

“A lot of it is a mind-body connection for me. I would say for self care, a lot of that is my mental thoughts, so thinking positively instead of negatively. If you think a negative thought, what are three positive thoughts that can overcome that negative thought? 

But it’s also feeling good when I wake up in the morning. I like using the Olay Whips moisturizer to help you feel fresh throughout the day. It has SPF in it so it’s protecting my skin while I’m training all day, and at night, it’s making sure I have that skin-care routine. So it’s a mental thing but you also want to feel good. You want to look in the mirror and feel good.”

Melissa Stockwell

You’re a recipient of the Athletes for Good Fund. Has doing good always come naturally to you?

“I like to think I’ve always done good; I’ve always wanted to help others when I can. After losing a leg, though, I wouldn’t be here doing the things that I do if it wasn’t for the people and organizations who have helped me out along the way. So it’s almost like you want to give back to help the next generation and the next person who can benefit from that. 

Through the P&G Athletes for Good fund, the organization I cofounded, Dare2Tri, was selected as a winner with $10,000. We get athletes with physical disabilities into the sport of triathlons and it changes lives. This money will provide adaptive equipment, the coaching and training to get an athlete to a finish line and realize how much ability is in their disability.”

What does Love Leads to Good mean to you as a mom? 

“I’ll probably need tissues every time I watch that. It is the perfect visual illustration of a role that a parent can play in a child’s life. It resonates because I’m a mother of a 3- and 6-year-old and I want to inspire them to treat people with compassion and kindness and respect and it’s hard to do. I feel like I try to do it, but you never know if that sets in with them or not. So the little things along the way that I say or do, you can only hope that they will remember those things in the future. So the film is incredible and resonates as a mother, as a parent and it kind of gets you thinking about the things you can do to try to pass that onto your children because I’m sure all parents want that for their children, just to grow up and be compassionate and kind and help others as well.”

How has training for the Paralympics differed this year?

“It definitely looks a little different. We started training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where I swim, bike, train, everything, there. But the facilities were closed for a few months in the middle of last year and now there are very strict protocols in place. So when the Games were postponed, the intensity of the training went down a little bit, so it really gave me more time to spend with my family. Training was still a focus, but I could get out there with my son and if he was on a bike, I would run next to him and that would be my workout. So it’s helped me with this family-life balance that I didn’t know I needed, but the training is still there. It does look a little different, more time has been spent on our own than with the team, so I’m really thankful to be back with my team at the Olympic Training Center training everyday. It was a year postponement but here we are, four months out which is kind of crazy. There is more to life than training and racing, and I think this year helped us all realize that.”


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