Paralympics 2021: Who is the Purple Heart veteran who carried the US flag?

Channel 4 share ‘Super Human’ Paralympic 2020 trailer

She is a former US Army lieutenant who became the first female soldier to lose a limb in the Iraq War and was a flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games.

Melissa Stockwell, 41, received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for her military service, and now has her sights set on giving her all in Tokyo.

But the triathlete arrived in Japan just two months after a serious bike crash, which left her with a string of injuries that included a bruised pelvis and two fractured vertebrae.

The accident put her training on pause for several weeks, and she focused on the lower-impact parts of the sport, the swimming and the bike, as she worked her way back to fitness.

She was back to a normal training regime by early August and now hopes to be competitive in Japan, where she was chosen to be a Team USA flag bearer at the opening ceremony alongside wheelchair rugby star Chuck Aoki.


Flag bearers Melissa Stockwell and Charles Aoki of Team United States lead their delegation in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 24, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Stockwell, who has two children, Dallas, 6, and Millie, 4, lost her left leg in the spring of 2004, when her Humvee vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.

Despite being severely injured, Stockwell says that she never lost perspective as she lay in a hospital bed surrounded by her injured comrades.

“I looked around and saw other soldiers missing both of their legs, a leg and an arm, they had lost their eyesight,” she told People.

“I thought, ‘Man, I’m so lucky.’ I had three good limbs. I had my life. I think perspective is everything.”

And Stockwell, who says she would love to appear on Dancing with the Stars, hopes to be a positive example to any young girls dealing with difficulties.

“I feel that as elite athletes, we have this platform to show, especially Paralympic athletes, to show the world how much ability is in disabilities within sport,” she said.

And she added: “But to elevate it more in the hopes that – maybe there is a little girl who just lost her leg, and she doesn’t know what she can do, and her parents might not be sure what her life might be like.

Paralympian and former U.S. Army Officer Melissa Stockwell runs during a training session on May 27, 2020 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Athletes across the globe are now training in isolation under strict policies in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“And, if they watch the Olympic and Paralympic games and turn on the TV, and they see Dancing with the Stars and see an amputee on it?


“It gives them hope, and that is the greatest thing in what we do, just trying to inspire the next generation and give back.”

Away from competing, Stockwell and her husband Brian Tolsma, who are both trained prosthetists, own an orthotics and prosthetics business in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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