On Monday, Team USA’s Mallory Weggemann won gold in the 100-meter backstroke S7 in a close race at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. (S7 is a classification for physical impairment.) Her time of 1 minute, 21.27 seconds also broke the Paralympic record of 1:22.72, set in 2016 by Ke Liting of China.
It was a double-podium event for Team USA: Weggemann’s teammate Julia Gaffney—the current world record holder for the event—won bronze with a time of 1:22.02, just shy of Canada’s Danielle Dorris, who secured silver with a time of 1:21.91. Team USA’s McKenzie Coan, who won gold the day before in the 400-meter freestyle S7, finished fourth to narrowly miss the podium.
This isn’t the only gold medal Weggemann is taking home from Tokyo—nor is it the only time Team USA dominated on the podium. Earlier this week, the 32-year-old athlete won gold in the women’s 200-meter individual medley SM7, with fellow American Ahalya Lettenberger winning silver. We don’t hate this double-podium trend.
“It’s remarkable to share the podium with a fellow Team USA teammate and see two flags go up,” Weggemann said to Team USA after the medal ceremony. “Two podiums, two golds. I couldn’t think of anything better right now.”
The three-time Paralympian now has four Paralympic medals, according to Team USA. She took home two medals (gold in the 50-meter freestyle and bronze in the 4×100-meter medley) from the Paralympic Games London in 2012.
In January 2008, Weggemann became paralyzed from the waist down after receiving an epidural injection to treat a bout of shingles, Sports Illustrated reports. A few months later her older sister took her to watch the 2008 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials at the University of Minnesota. That’s when she realized that her swimming career—she had been the captain of her high school swim team—didn’t need to be over. Maybe it could get a fresh start.
“I looked at my sister and said, ‘How cool would it be if I could be here in four years?’” Weggemann told the magazine. “And that has kind of been marked as the day that the dream was born.”
After that, Weggemann started her long and difficult journey, which began with learning how to move her body and how to rely on just her upper body to swim, and progressed to her winning major races. Then, at the London Games in 2012, Weggemann was unexpectedly reclassified from S7 to S8, a category for swimmers with a lower level of impairment. Despite her seemingly underdog status, Weggemann edged out the competition to win gold and set a U.S. and Paralympic record, according to Sports Illustrated.
Then in 2014, Weggemann injured her arm, damaging the nerves and her ability to grip. It put her out of the pool for six months, and some doctors even said the injury would be permanent, the outlet reported. Still, Weggemann worked at rehabbing the arm and was able to qualify for and compete in four events at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janiero.
Like most other Olympic and Paralympic athletes looking toward Tokyo, Weggemann found her plans disrupted yet again due to the postponement. Her local training facilities shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping her out of the pool for three months until she started using a colleague’s backyard pool to start training again, Insider reported. She told the publication she trained using a resistance band tied to the diving board until she could go back to a lap pool.
With news of the postponed Games, Weggemann also delayed her plans to become a mom. She told Insider that she and her husband had always planned to have a baby after Tokyo, and the postponement was “heartbreaking.” “My logical athlete mentality kicked in, but my heart took a little while to catch up,” she said.
Outside of the pool, Weggemann is an advocate for disabled athletes and co-CEO of the TFA Group, a social impact agency dedicated to highlighting adaptive athletes. Earlier this year she published her memoir, Limitless: The Power of Hope and Resilience to Overcome Circumstance.
Weggemann still has a few more chances to bring home more bling from Tokyo. This week she’ll be vying for spots in the finals of the women’s 100-meter freestyle S7 on August 31, 50-meter freestyle S8 on September 1, and 50-meter butterfly S7 on September 3.