When rising swim champ Mallory Weggeman was 18 years old, she underwent a routine medical procedure and was left paralyzed from the waist down. Refusing to give up, she went on to become a Paralympic Gold Medalist, ESPY winner, NBC Sports commentator, and all-around extraordinary woman. So when she appeared on screen for our virtual interview, we knew that the conversation to follow would be unforgettable. Mallory is the sort of person you could talk to for hours—really funny, humble and truly genuine. In sum, she’s the kind of woman you want to be when you grow up, no matter your age. Read on for her remarkable story— and so many nuggets of advice throughout (at EVEREVE, we call it “Weggemann Wisdom”).
EE: You have a remarkable story. How did you find such resilience when you were so young?
MW: Growing up, I watched my mom and dad lead our family with incredible grace and strength through an unspeakably challenging time in our lives. Witnessing firsthand how they navigated adversity really set the foundation for how I would approach my own hardship and get through the most traumatic day of my life. So I suppose I learned a lot about rising to the challenge by watching my parents do the same with such strength and courage. When I was first paralyzed, I actually felt an element of relief. Yes, this paralysis was all-consuming, but I was alive. There was never a question of whether I would survive; it could, literally, have been worse. But most of all, my resilience came from knowing I had the safety net of an incredible community around me, a network to lift me up when I needed it most.
MW: I’m the baby of three girls; my older sisters swam competitively. Our laundry room at home always smelled like chlorine.
EE: At EVEREVE, we’ve been talking a lot about rising to challenges and coming out stronger. You are certainly a tremendous power of example. What advice do you have for others facing adversity?
MW: Since my paralysis, I’ve come to learn that our now does not define what’s to become. When you’re in it, whatever it might be, the feeling is entirely consuming. But know that it’s not all darkness. Each day you’ll find your way, with a small and mighty community or a global one. Lean on the people around you, keep up that inner strength a day at a time. The circumstances we face don’t define us, but how we respond to them do. Choose to show up.
MW: So much fun! It was my birthday, and it felt great to celebrate by doing something totally different. What I loved most about it: after my paralysis I yearned to see a path forward for representation, to see women like myself in fashion and media. Thirteen years ago, that didn’t exist. I love that other young women who are paralyzed can begin to feel seen, because I know what it feels like to yearn for that and not get it. We hear people talk about style for all shapes and sizes, but it’s so beyond that.
EE: Did you have a favorite look?
MW: I loved all three of them, because I felt like they each represented a different side of me.
That grey tank was so empowering. I’m proud of my upper body and I like to show off my strength. The sweater tank and shorts were really meaningful, because for years after my paralysis I hated showing my legs; I just didn’t feel connected to them. But my husband kept encouraging me, and now I wear shorts all the time. And that jumpsuit. I love jumpsuits for work but had yet to find one that fit me the right way, until now!
EE: At EVEREVE, we talk about maintaining an ever-forward mindset. What does that evoke for you?
MW: I’ve been thinking a lot about moving forward, too, especially as it relates to my athletic career. Every time I pull through a challenge or an injury, it’s labeled a “comeback.” But to me, a comeback implies a return to where you once were. Each time I “come back” I’ve learned and grown so much. My “comebacks” have never been driven by getting back to where I was, but moving forward to places I’ve never been before. Moving on cannot be the objective; you have to move forward, with, and alongside. When we make past performance our metric for what we want to achieve, we end up with a self-imposed glass ceiling. But if we take risks, we allow ourselves the capacity to be…limitless.
EE: What are you reading these days?
MW: Emily Giffin. I’ve really enjoyed every one of her books. I just read her latest, The Lies That Bind.
EE: Go-to post-workout meal?
MW: My elevated avocado toast. (Go on…) It’s avocado and hard-boiled egg on wheat toast with everything bagel seasoning. The seasoning is a game-changer.
EE: Tell me about your book! What does the word “limitless” mean to you?
MW: For me, the word “limitless” is not a superficial word; it’s not fluff. We all have hardship and trauma. Limitless is a choice, a way of being. We become limitless when we choose to understand that we are more than our individual set of circumstances. We become limitless when we realize that what matters is how we respond. And that’s as much about learning from one’s experience as it is about learning through communi- ty. In each stage of my life, I’ve taken little nuggets of counsel and advice from people who have lifted me up along the way; that is what I use to create a toolbox that gives me the strength to move forward.
(Thank you, Mallory, for sharing your story and for giving all of us at EVEREVE so many words of wisdom.)
Shop all of Mallory’s favorites here and catch up on more conversations with women who inspire us in the Ray of Light series.