Melissa Stockwell, 41, is a two-time Paralympian and won a paratriathlon bronze medal for the U.S. at the Rio Olympics in 2016. She also won three consecutive gold medals at the World Triathlon Series from 2010 to 2012. Born in Grand Haven, Michigan and currently living in Colorado Springs, Stockwell is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart after serving in the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2005.
Get to know more about Stockwell ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics.
In the same way that some Olympic sports group athletes by sex or weight, Paralympic sports group athletes by disability. This process is called classification. It helps ensure that competition is as fair and equal as possible so that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability, and mental focus rather than degree of disability. Each sport has a unique classification system, and classifications are sometimes adjusted over time.
Melissa Stockwell currently competes in the in the PTS2 classification, which is one of the classifications for athletes who use prosthesis. Athletes compete in cycling and running, as opposed to handcycling and using a push rim wheelchair.
Not from a military family, Stockwell joined the Army because she says she loves the United States. She did ROTC in college and was commissioned as an officer on the day that she graduated in 2002.
Stockwell was deployed to Iraq in 2004. As a platoon leader, she led convoys and spent much of her time on the road. She was in Iraq for three weeks when her vehicle hit a roadside bomb, causing her to lose her left leg above the knee. She was taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for her rehabilitation. She first walked on a prosthetic leg 52 days after she was injured and was medically retired from the Army in April 2005. She received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for her military service.
Introduction to Adaptive Sports
When she was recovering at Walter Reed Hospital, she swam as part of her rehab. She became involved with the Wounded Warriors Project.
Her introduction to the Paralympics came in early 2005 when John Register of the United States Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Military and Veteran Program presented on the Games. Stockwell was immediately compelled by the idea of representing her country again, this time as an athlete. She moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs at the end of 2007 and began working with swimming coach Jimi Flowers. A longshot for the 2008 Paralympic team, Stockwell had what she called “the meet of my life” and was named to the U.S. roster. Flowers passed away in 2009 in a climbing accident. Stockwell says that he was her greatest influence.
As of 2019, she now works with coach Derick Williamson.
Meet Stockwell's Family
Stockwell married Brian Tolsma on May 8, 2015. Tolsma is also a triathlete and makes prosthetic limbs, which is how they met. They have two children, a son, Dallas, and daughter named Millie. Stockwell says that her children motivate her to be a better person and athlete.
"Being a mom is my favorite job in the entire world and trumps everything else I do. They are still young, but my son knows I am chasing my dreams and trying to go to the Paralympics and win a medal again. They both know I swim, bike and run everyday and that I do what I love. My kids make me want to have even bigger dreams so I can show them first-hand how dreams can come true if you work hard enough for them."