Against All Odds - The Journey of Mallory Weggemann
If there is one word that can sum up the human nature, it’s “hope”. Whether it is defying odds to achieve what you want, or holding onto something that makes it just a little easier to go through the day, hope is something that cannot be undermined nor ignored. There have been many stories that have given hope to a lot of people, and there will be a lot more inspirational tales that will be sung in the future. But when I laid my eyes upon one particular news article, I knew I had to get in touch with the person to share her incredible journey. I had the opportunity to talk to Mallory Weggemann, and today, I have the honor of sharing her story with the sports fans across the world.
About Mallory Weggemann: On January 21, 2008, Mallory Weggemann received an epidural injection to help treat back pain; however by the time it was finished she was forever changed. Complications with the procedure left the college freshman paralyzed from the waist down. Mallory returned to the pool on April 8, 2008, and since that time she has set 16 World Records and 33 American Records!
Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen to the audio clip to hear the complete interview. I hope everyone will be as inspired as I was listening to her.
Hello Mallory! How are you?
I’m doing well, thank you!
Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us.
I appreciate it, thanks for doing this.
I have been following your story, and I knew that I had to get in touch with you to share your story with the sports fans in India.
Perfect, thank you!
You truly are an inspiration, and your story of determination, grit and perseverance has given hope to a lot of people. I want the Indian sports fans to know about your journey, and so I will ask you a few questions about your personal and professional life. Does that sound good?
That sounds great!
Firstly, congratulations on taking your first steps since January 21st ’08. Can you tell us about the emotional journey you’ve been through for the past 5 – 6 years?
Thank you so much, I appreciate it. It was pretty exciting!
On January 21st 2008, I was 18 years old. It was just two months before my 19th birthday, and I went in to receive an epidural injection to help treat my back pain and unfortunately, I never walked out. I was left paralyzed from that day forward, and as you can imagine, it completely changed my world in so many ways. It’s been a lot of ups and a lot of downs and overcoming a lot of adversities, but at the end of the day I really do feel that everything happens for a reason, and although it has been incredibly hard at times, there has been a reason for everything. It has given me the ability to see life in a new perspective and do things I may have otherwise not done, and just learn more about myself and who I am as a person. It’s kind of one of those things when your world changes in the blink of an eye, it gives you a wake-up call and puts things into perspective for you. It has definitely done that for me in my own life, and it has been a journey that I definitely haven’t gone through alone. I’m really fortunate that I have a lot of amazing support from my family, friends and from people far and wide that I may not even know about, and all that support has definitely helped me over the past 6 years, something I feel incredibly blessed to have.
When was the first time the reality kind of dawned on you on that day (About being paralyzed)?
You know, I think on that day, in all honesty, it was so hard to believe that something like that could happen, and it didn’t seem real. For the first 24 hours or so, we were just waiting; I was told that the medicine would wear off and no one really knew what was going on right away. My family and I knew it was bigger than medicine just waiting to wear off because my mom’s a nurse, and so she understands the medical profession. She knew that it wasn’t right, and that it wasn’t normal. I think it really hit me the morning after, on January 22nd when I woke up, and I still couldn’t move my legs and still had no feeling. I think at that point, it hit me that it was actually happening, that this is real and this isn’t just, you know, it isn’t some crazy nightmare that I just was going to wake up and go home walking. It was real life, and it just started to go from there and it was a big struggle going back and forth for a few months of figuring this out, and why me, and just not understanding how something like that could happen. Also going through the ups and downs of the fears and uncertainties of what this now meant to my life, because I didn’t understand this. Growing up, I didn’t know anybody with a physical disability. So it was a world that not only had I never been exposed to in any degree, but now I was living, and it was a challenge to myself and my family to figure it out, and when it first happened, I didn’t have the core strength to sit up in bed and get in and out of wheelchair on my own. I was being lifted up by machines and devices and nurses, and I was completely dependent on everyone around me, and I didn’t know what that meant for my life moving forward. I think that was the biggest fear for me when this first happened. It was just, “What’s my life going to be like now?”
The past weekend must have truly been emotionally gratifying for you. How did it feel to once again be able to walk in front of your family and friends?
*Chuckles* It was absolutely unbelievable. When I was paralyzed almost 6 years ago now, I’ve always been told that it was a stable injury and that I would never be able to regain function and all of those things, and hearing those things has been really hard for a long time. I finally started to accept it and I finally realized that, although that might be true, and although I’ll never be able to have function in my legs back, and they’ll never be able to work again, just as I had done in my life with my swimming and all that, just as I found a way to do it without my legs, I was determined I was going to find a way to “Walk again”. I know that, from my point of paralysis down, I’m not going to regain any function, and that’s okay. But I wanted to test myself and see what I could do considering I have such brute upper body strength now, because of swimming and all these things, and with technology. So, Saturday was a dream come true, because I never thought I would get it. And when it happened, it’s still weird, I can’t feel my legs and I still can’t move them. But to be walking and know that the muscles from the point of my paralysis down aren’t doing anything to help, it was like a little bit of a mind game. But it’s really neat to see how your body can compensate even in that type of situation. And to be able to, I’m 5’9”, and so to be able to stand at 5’9”; I’m tall by female standards, and to see my loved ones eye to eye, my family and for some people in my life, it was the first time I ever stood and walked in front of them! To be able to experience that is so amazing. It’s just totally different perspective than when you’re sitting; to stand up with my crutches and my braces, have a conversation with the musician (Joshua Radin) and I was like, “Oh my goodness!”, and I was feeling normal! It’s just those little things, those little perspectives that make us realize that, you know, seeing light fixtures and doorways and seeing all those things, and it sounds so small and simple, but just seeing those things again, seeing people eye to eye and walking towards them, and seeing them eye to eye was the coolest thing ever! And for me, it was a story of what I’m all about, and the message I’ve tried to share since this happened. The whole idea of no matter what happens, doesn’t mean you can’t go out and chase your dreams, and do everything you want to do! For somebody who is a complete paraplegic, to be able to go out and do that, it beats every odd and proves that even if you can’t use your legs, you can find a way to do everything, including walking. It was so cool for me, especially for myself mentally and emotionally moving forward, and for the message I want to share with others.
I’m a big Joshua Radin fan, so when I heard that he played “Brand New Day” for you, I was ecstatic. It must have truly been special with your favorite artist playing the song during that moment.
Yes, it was amazing. We were able to have a private meet with him before the concert in this room in downtown Minneapolis that had porcelain windows that were looking over downtown, these gorgeous little chandeliers, and it was just us. We had cameramen there and so they were able to catch it all on film. It was truly special, and his music is so inspirational, and what the words even in that song represent – hope and love and all of these things that are so crucial to live, no matter what you’re going through. I thought it was really special. It’s a song that I absolutely love; it’s a song that holds a lot of meaning not only to myself, but to my entire family (It was played during her sister’s wedding). It’s been a beautiful song for us for so many reasons, and so it was so special, to be able to have that moment. I’m somebody who absolutely loves music, I write songs myself, and for me to write my own music is totally and completely my muse. I’m the kind of person that, if I can have a song all day, everyday; a song for every moment I totally would! So it was really cool; music is a big part of everything that I do, and so having that moment was very special.
There were a lot of other questions which were covered during the interview, such as her expectations going into the Swimming World Championships in ’09 and ’10, her trip to the Paralympics, her campaign “Against All Odds” and her message to all those who are going through similar hardships in their lives.
I cannot put it in words how humbling the experience was, and at the same time, she had an incredible presence about herself. I urge all the sports fans and everyone in general to spend some time listening to her. Thank you Mallory Weggemann, and I look forward to our next conversation.