Paralympic competitor, veteran Melissa Stockwell shares story at CWU


Melissa Stockwell competed in the Paralympic Games and spoke at CWU about her experiences. Photo courtesy of Pexels

MJ Rivera, Staff Reporter

Melissa Stockwell is an American veteran who fought in Iraq and competed in three paralympic games, according to her website, and she gave a speech at CWU on Feb. 22 in the SURC ballroom at 6 p.m.

“After being deployed to Iraq in 2004, she became the first female American soldier to lose a limb in active combat, when her vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. She was honored with a purple heart and a bronze star,” according to her website.

The first paralympic competition that she competed in was swimming in 2008, then she switched to the triathlon in 2016 and 2021. Her next goal is to compete in the triathlon in France 2024, according to her website.

Joseph Paolilli, the senior ranking officer of the ROTC program and department chair for military science at CWU, also attended the University of Colorado.

“She was a senior when I was a freshman, and I had probably spoke to her like six times over the semester,” Paolilli said.

After that year, Stockwell graduated and joined the army. Paolilli recalled being a sophomore or junior in college when he and his schoolmates were notified that she had survived an injury in Iraq but had lost her leg.

“It was like, wow, a great human being, she was an inspirational person when she was a student with us.  That’s a tragedy,” Paolilli said.

In the years after, Paolilli followed Stockwell on social media and saw how she continued to tell her story and be an inspiration for people.

“Through Lieutenant General Terry Roebling, who has an endowment for guest speakers at the university and in the presence of Speaker Series, I just sent a random note to her,” he said.

Originally, Paolilli had asked if she would do physical training with CWU’s ROTC unit.

“I’m trying to find opportunities for students to kind of experience different things besides hearing me talk … it evolved into a presidential speaker series event,” Paolilli said.

Stockwell agreed to go on a four-mile run with CWU ROTC and anyone else who wanted to join the following morning.

Paolilli said it is inspirational how Stockwell didn’t allow her injury to ruin her life, but rather it opened new doors of opportunity through the paralympics.

Paolilli invited community members to join their run with Stockwell at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 starting in front of the SURC.