Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann to attend Democratic convention

(Photo: Adam Bettcher, Getty Images for Starkey Hearing)

American Paralympic swimmer Mallory Weggemann was raised in a household where she was told she could make a difference. Every night her father would tell her that she could change the world if she wanted to.

On Tuesday, Weggemann will get an opportunity to change the world that she wasn’t born into, but has grown to love — the world of Paralympic sport — when she attends the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She will lead delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance in the evening and will also have an opportunity to speak with politicians.

“I was a little shocked and a little overwhelmed,” Weggemann said when she got the call to attend, set up through the Washington Speakers Bureau. “But I’m really looking forward to it.”

She is elated to be a “fly on the wall” and to see how a major political party’s convention is run. She is also eager to talk with the attendees regarding disability rights.

Two months before her 19th birthday, Weggemann went to the hospital for an epidural injection that was meant to help with back pain. What was supposed to be a routine procedure turned into a life-changing one, leaving the 2012 Paralympic gold medalist paralyzed from her abdomen down.

Weggemann was forced to adjust to a new lifestyle.

“It was something that I had to get accustomed to, something I had to adapt to, something I had to learn about,” Weggemann said. “I didn’t know what learning with a disability in our society meant.”

Weggemann, 27, who is one of only two U.S. swimmers competing in seven events in Rio at the Paralympic Games, admittedly didn’t know much, if anything, about living with a disability before her paralysis. She doesn’t expect everyone in the world, or at the convention, to fully understand, either.

However, she does believe that living with a disability is more universal than most might think.

While some might be limited physically, like Weggemann, she recognizes there are those who may be suffering through disabilities of their own, whether that be financial, spiritual, etc.

“I think all of us are impacted by disability and the minute we realize that it affects each and every one of us, I think that’s the minute that we realize that this is something that we need to invest in, invest in our future,” said Weggemann, who is from Eagan, Minn.

She never quite saw herself dabbling in the political world, but she views Tuesday’s event as an “incredible opportunity.” The swimmer will certainly state her case to make disability rights a priority for politicians and delegates, but for the most part, she is just excited to meet those who devote their careers to making change, something Weggemann also aims to do.

“I really wanted to kind of tap more and more into the advocacy world, and get a little bit more knowledge of the political spectrum of the advocacy world and more of an understanding for it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to just kind of getting my feet wet, soak it all in and be there and just kind of see the environment and be a part of that.”

August 1, 2016
USA Today by: Griffin Adams