The Paralympic games have officially begun in Rio de Janeiro.
Athletes from more than 160 countries are competing in 22 different sporting events at this year’s games. Approximately 43% of all the athletes competing in medal events are women -- a 12% increase from the London 2012 games.
One of those athletes competing for Team USA this time around is Mallory Weggemann. The 27-year-old swimmer won gold in the 50-meter freestyle in London. She also captured a bronze at the London games swimming in the relay. Now just over two years after a severe arm injury almost ended her career she is back in the pool and ready to go for gold yet again.
Mallory teamed up with Hershey’s for their “Hello from Home” campaign. We caught up with her before she headed to Rio to ask about this new partnership, and how she feels competing this year.
You competed back in 2012 at the London games. How do you feel this time around in comparison to the last time we saw you at the games?
Going into London and now going into Rio have been very different in a lot of ways. I was still very young when I won my first Paralympic gold medal in London. I did know I wanted to go to the 2016 games, but unfortunately in March 2012 I had a severe arm injury while in New York City. I was in the middle of a shower and the shower bench broke; I was left with severe and permanent damage to my left arm.
In 2014 for awhile I thought I was going to retire and didn’t think I was going to get back. I lost a lot of function in my arm as a result of the injury. So it took a long time to just figure out how to do my everyday tasks again. I made the decision about six months after the injury to get back into the water and attempt to make a run for the Rio 2016 games.
A year after my injury I returned to competition for the first time. There were many ups and downs and doubts as to whether I could even do it. It was really the community around me that I leaned on going into London that got me through. I leaned on them a lot but I was younger and I did have the adversity of being paralyzed but in terms of my athletic career it hadn’t really been tested. Also leading into London I had a very fast climb to the top and became very competitive very quickly. Coming into Rio though I think I had questions just about whether it could even happen. It’s been humbling to have moments of weakness because I don’t think it makes us weak it just makes us human.
I’ve also realized that when we are trying to go after those dreams and goals and ambitions you have to rely on the people around you and so going into Rio that has been a big thing for me.
How much does your support system impact you as an athlete?
I always say you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. The only reason we have made it that far is because we have people backing us.
How did your partnership with Hershey’s come about?
I was so excited when Hershey’s approached me about the opportunity to work with them. When I think of Hershey’s I think of the memories and the iconic family experiences associated with it, and I thought it would be a neat opportunity for myself as an individual and athlete. So often as an athlete your sole focus is on the performance and I think we forget all the things that make us who we are.
When I went to London in 2012 my family made a scrapbook filled with hundreds of letters from my community. When you are in the big moment your family is not with you and so it was a good experience to turn to the letters of support to help me when I was nervous. We are there with our teammates and coaches but we are in this bubble that is scary and nerve wrecking. So having those messages goes a long way. The scrapbook in 2012 was what I turned to for most of the games and ultimately it’s what I turned to when I won my gold medal. All those messages are again going to be what pulls me through Rio.