WEST MICHIGAN — Grand Haven native Melissa Stockwell was like every other little girl growing up in America. She had two big dreams: becoming a star athlete and serving her country.
It was April 13, 2004, while serving in Iraq that one of her dreams almost ended.
“I woke up like I did every other morning in Iraq,” Melissa recalls. “Got into our vehicle like I always did. About 10 minutes into the ride, our vehicle goes under this bridge and there was just this deafening boom. We knew that a roadside bomb had struck our vehicle.”
The veteran from Grand Haven was the first female American soldier in history to lose a limb in the line of duty.
“I had no idea the extent of my injury,” says Melissa. “I know now that my leg was gone. That day definitely changed the trajectory of my own life.
“A few months after, I was at the hospital. There was these signs in the hallway that said, ‘Come learn about the U.S. Paralympics. Baghdad to Beijing.’ I knew I was going to be a Paralympian.”
Melissa was the first Iraq War veteran to qualify for the Paralympic Games.
After the 2008 Paralympics, Melissa set her sights on a new challenge: triathlons. It was 2016 in Rio when her other dream came true.
“Of all days that my race could have taken place, it was Sept. 11 of 2016,” says Melissa. “Like, that was my day; it’s almost like it was meant to be. Getting a bronze medal felt like a personal gold.”
On Nov. 11, Veterans Day, Melissa is being honored with the Angela Madsen Courage Award by Angel City Sports. They provide sports opportunities for kids, adults and veterans with physical disabilities.
“Melissa is the perfect first recipient,” says Angel City Sports Founder & CEO Clayton Frech. “They’re both veterans, both injured during their times of service, both Paralympians. And what a blessing to the world that FOX Sports Supports is out there, supporting organizations like ours.”
“It's so important, especially for these young girls and boys, to know that it’s okay to struggle, but know that you have a team of people,” Melissa advises. “Your families [are] your team, your friends [are] your team, and they can help you kind of rise up and get through those hard times.”