Hershey's celebrates Paralympic gold winner

Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News

After winning two medals, including Olympic gold in the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Minnesota native Mallory Weggemann heads to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the 2016 Summer Paralympic games, looking to build off her success in the pool. This time, she has a sweet sponsor behind her.

To help send her off, Weggemann was in Hershey for a Team USA rally, celebrating The Hershey Company’s first time sponsoring the United States Olympic Committee on National S’mores Day Wednesday, August 10 at The Hershey Company corporate office. Weggemann is also one of three individual USA athletes sponsored by Hershey.

“Having Hershey as a sponsor is incredibly exciting. As a Paralympic athlete, it takes a community to get to this point in my career,” Weggemann said, who visited Hershey for the first time.

“Hershey’s such an iconic American brand, and the Paralympic spirit in the movement kind of rings true to what Hershey is all about, which is making memories, bringing our families and communities together," she continued. "I’m so excited to be a part of this.”

Weggemann will first report to the Team USA Camp Aug. 26 before heading to Rio for the Paralympic Games, which run Sept. 7-18. She’ll compete in seven individual events, such as the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle, 100-meter fly, 100-meter backstroke, 100-meter breaststroke and the 200-meter individual medley. Whether Weggeman will run any relays will be determined once the team gets to Rio, based on each swimmer’s performance in the individual events.

Weggeman, 27, looks to add to her already illustrious career, coming into the Rio games as the defending gold medal winner in the 50-meter free and winning the bronze in the 4x100-meter medley in the London games. Besides of course winning the medals, the three-time USA Swimming Disabled Swimmer of the Year winner says it was the little things that were even more memorable.

“It was a complete dream come true. Words can’t describe it. I think one of the neatest parts for me during that journey was when I left for London, my family made this scrap book with letters from all of our friends and supporters in the community, and my family," Weggemann, a recipient of the Best Female Athlete with a Disability award in the 2011 ESPN ESPY’s, said. "It was really neat, and when I won my gold medal and when I got back to the Olympic village, I opened that book and I was able to read all the messages in there.

“That was such an incredible experience because you realize that the gold medal is about the journey, not the race. It’s about the family, friends and the community who were behind you all this time. That’s another reason why I’m excited to be in Hershey, because that’s what they’re doing with their campaign.”

And this time, Weggemann’s family will be with her in Rio, including her fiance, Jeremy, her parents, sisters, future sister-in-law, and future mother- and father-in-law.

Getting this far, however, was obviously not easy for Weggemann after she became paralyzed in Jan. 2008 when she was 18 years old.

“I never knew this is where life was going to take me. I just knew it was something I wanted to try," she said. "I had been a competitive swimmer my entire life, and so after my injury I got back in the water, and there was a time where I had to learn to readapt and figure out my strokes in different ways.

“But at the end of the day, I realize that swimming never changed. That love and commitment and fundamental elements were still there, even after my injury. That’s what I loved about it. It’s really neat to see Paralympics showcase their amazing abilities. It’s all about changing perception about how we as a society look at disability and showing that anything’s possible. It’s such as neat message to share.”

And as if coming back from being paralyzed to compete on the world’s biggest stage wasn’t enough, Weggemann suffered yet another setback that nearly cost her spot on this year’s team. But now that she’s made it back and knowing all she’s accomplished already, Weggemann wants to make sure she lives in the moment.

“Ultimately for me, I want to be able to experience Rio for all that it is and really enjoy it. London had some hiccups along the way, and so did Rio," she explained. "I had an arm injury two and a half years ago, and after that, I thought I was going to have to retire.

“As I go into it, I’ve realized I’ve made it this far despite all those obstacles, and I’ve already won medals and made the team twice. While I have those goals to defend my gold medal and win more medals, there’s also a calmness about Rio for me. It’s the sense that I’m doing what I didn’t think was possible two years ago. Now it’s time to just have fun and enjoy it, and whatever happens, happens. And usually when you have that calmness, you usually perform better.”

http://www.ldnews.com/story/news/2016/08/10/hersheys-celebrates-paralymp...

August 11, 2016
Lebanon Daily News by: Matt Catrillo