Mallory Weggemann: Paralympic swimmer who had leg amputated reveals what makes swimming ‘time-tested’

Champion swimmer Mallory Weggemann (No. 12) swam with a prosthetic ankle in 2008. Zach Prior / Pool | USA Swimming via Getty Images

Fortunes are changing at the Summer Paralympics.

Five-time Paralympic medalist Mallory Weggemann, who had successful surgery to amputate her left leg in 2004, told in a telephone interview that her time-tested method of swimming has been vital to her recovery.

“It’s really important to me that I have something to do with myself,” Weggemann said. “Swimming is really important for me to have something to look forward to.”

Weggemann, who competes in the 200-meter backstroke, won the bronze medal at the 2012 London Paralympics. She is set to compete again this summer in Tokyo.

“It’s a team sport,” Weggemann said of swimming, adding that even when she was at the London Games, she had a team behind her.

“It’s that whole Olympic thing of Team USA. Everybody comes from the world and works together and gives each other support.”

Weggemann, 33, a swimmer for 14 years, recently underwent a prosthetic ankle transplant in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“The surgery gave me three prosthetic legs,” she said. “Just getting the prosthetic leg off was an obstacle. Now I’m swimming with three legs and feel very confident, very self-possessed. It made a big difference in how I felt and how I handled my anxiety in the water.”

She has also learned other ways to utilize her physical ability in an integrated way.

“In addition to swimming, I also make a YouTube channel of amazing videos with dance moves,” she said. “That’s another way that I adapt. I can be a part of the culture, too.”

Weggemann will attend the Montreal Paralympics this month. She described the occasion as “icing on the cake.”

“When you live for an international community, you’re always going to be, I feel, a part of something,” she said. “As soon as I left London, I said I wouldn’t stop for another four years. It’s a really cool journey.”

Weggemann said she has had an on-going love-hate relationship with her three legs, though she admits that “It’s better now.”

“Now I can actually deal with them as anything but a gimmick,” she said. “They mean something to me. My parents always joked that it was something that I wanted even though nobody thought it was realistic.”

Weggemann also has been involved in helping to raise money for breast cancer patients. In 2004, she competed in the Miami-Paralympics Games where she won six gold, three silver and one bronze medal.

The 2012 Summer Paralympics in London raised $21 million in official and charity contributions.

Weggemann says she is excited to be part of the young talent in swimming.

“A lot of our swimmers have phenomenal physical abilities, and they can pull something out of the bag. It’s cool to see how they get down in the water and what inspires them,” she said.

“To see their Olympic stories— it’s phenomenal. They are all dedicated and they have a drive to push themselves. It’s really cool to see, especially the Olympics.”

The person Weggemann is most excited to compete against is two-time gold medalist Taylor Ruck (who used to compete for Canada), she said.

“She’s young and spunky and courageous and I have no doubt she will have an amazing career and that she’ll be the one representing us at Tokyo,” Weggemann said.

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