Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann: 'We just have to choose to move forward'

Swimmer Mallory Weggemann
Swimmer Mallory Weggemann poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympic shoot in West Hollywood, Calif.
Harry How | Getty Images 2020

Swimmer and Eagan native Mallory Weggemann says that we just have to choose to move forward. That's the decision she's made over and over since a medical treatment left her paralyzed in 2008.

Since then, Weggemann has gone on to medal at the London Paralympic Games in 2012 and came back from a serious injury to compete in the Rio Games in 2016. Now she's getting ready for the Paralympics in Tokyo later this summer.

Weggemann joined MPR News host Tom Crann to talk about her love of swimming and preparing for the upcoming competition.

The following is a lightly edited transcription of the interview. Listen to the full discussion using the audio player above.

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What does it mean for you to be able to get into the pool and compete?

In so many ways, swimming is spiritual in nature for me, and I think a lot of that just roots in being grateful and grounded in everything that it has given me over the years.

I have fond memories of swimming as a child, as I fell in love with the sport at the age of seven when I began to compete, all the way through high school, and memories of returning to the sport after my paralysis when I was 18 years old.

Now to be here 13 years later and competing for Team USA and preparing to race in my third Paralympic Games. It's just such a remarkable opportunity. And I think at this stage of my career, every time I get behind those starting blocks, I just feel so grounded in that gratitude and in that understanding that every time I get behind those blocks, it is a gift. It really is. There's no guarantees that you get to get up and race tomorrow and see if you enjoy it while you have it. And I'm so fortunate for the community that has wrapped their arms around me and allowed me to chase this dream.

Take us back to this past weekend. What did it mean for you to be in those qualifying events in that pool you know well at the U of M. What was going through your mind this weekend?

Racing at trials this past weekend at the University of Minnesota pool was surreal in a lot of ways. When I got there for warmups, the beginning of the week before competition began on Thursday, I just looked around to a pool deck that, in so many ways, represented my entire swimming journey.

2021 U.S. Paralympic Trials - Day 2
Mallory Weggemann competes in the women's 100m Freestyle during the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center on June 18 in Minneapolis.
Stacy Revere | Getty Images

I mean, the railing in the stands is where I leaned over just two months after my paralysis and was exposed to the Paralympic movement for the very first time. Lane one is where, 48 hours later, I came back to the pool and got in the water for the first time since my injury. And that black line that trails the bottom, in many ways is the very place that brought me back to life. It was an incredibly special weekend. In a lot of ways, that's what fueled the performance that I ultimately ended up having.

What impact did this extra year, this COVID-19 year, have on your training?

The extra year had some pros just from a straight performance standpoint. I had two major surgeries after the Rio 2016 games and was out of competition for two full years. So having an extra year of training definitely helped me.

But at the same time, that extra year meant my husband and I postponing a family another year. As a female athlete, that's kind of at the forefront of your brain as you start to get older. So there were impacts. And sure, we had to get creative. We didn't have a pool for months. We had to adapt and pivot. I “swam” on this device called a swim bench. And it's basically — you lay on your stomach on a shuttle and your hands are on these resistance bands that kind of mimic the underwater portion of your stroke. I taped a black line to the bottom of the floor to kind of mentally Give me that place to go. And we pivoted the same way everyone else did.

Listen to the full discussion using the audio player above.