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From disaster to triumph: A week in the life of Mallory Weggemann

By Mallory Weggemann, Special to CNN
updated 7:08 AM EDT, Thu September 6, 2012
USA's Mallory Weggemann celebrates after winning the 50m freestyle S8 event at the London Paralympics.
USA's Mallory Weggemann celebrates after winning the 50m freestyle S8 event at the London Paralympics.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. athlete Mallory Weggemann is an eight-time world champion
  • Weggemann paralyzed from the waist down after epidural injection to treat shingles
  • The U.S. swimmer resumed swimming just four months after being paralyzed
  • Weggemann talks about overcoming obstacles on her journey to the London Paralympics

U.S. swimmer Mallory Weggemann was paralyzed from the waist down in 2008 after a routine epidural injection went wrong. She returned to the pool and became a world champion, setting 15 records. Now 23, she had been targeting nine gold medals at London 2012 but her events were reduced after her classification was altered by the International Paralympic Committee. She writes for CNN about her journey to London 2012.

London, England (CNN) -- When I think back on this past week and the rollercoaster of emotions I have experienced at the Paralympics, I realize that everything happens for a reason.

Hours before the London 2012 opening ceremonies I learned that my appeal to overturn my reclassification had been denied. In that moment I felt defeat.

Mallory Weggemann
Mallory Weggemann

I felt as though everything I had worked for the past four and a half years had been stripped from me, but it was then that I realized that the journey to get to this point wasn't about the medals.

The reason why I got back in the water in April 2008 nearly four months after being paralyzed, the reason that I devoted my life to swimming for the past four years, the sacrifices I made, and the person I became, wasn't about the medals.

I think it was easy for me to get lost in the numbers -- the number of how many golds I could win -- but when this happened it forced me to reflect on my journey and what got me to this point. I realized I did all of that to become the best possible swimmer, athlete and person I could be for this very moment, medals or no medals.

Read more: Follow CNN's live Paralympics blog

I poured my heart, soul, sweat and tears into these past four and a half years to challenge myself, to see just how far I can push my body, to move forward with life, and most importantly because I absolutely love to swim.

I had dreamed of that very moment for years and I wanted nothing more than to see our flag raised...
Mallory Weggemann on paralympic hope

No matter what happens and what has happened, that is something that can't be taken away from me. That is something that no-one can strip from me. The work that I have put into this, the passion that backs it, and who I have become throughout this journey all remains the same no matter what classification I am.

As I went into Sunday's 50 meters freestyle, I knew what I had to do and I knew what I wanted. I had dreamed of that very moment for years and I wanted nothing more than to see our flag raised and hear the national anthem play.

Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #cnnparalympics

I went into that race with some stiff competition. Competition I had never raced before. I sat in the ready room as a T10 complete paraplegic, no function from my belly button down, and I was up against girls who are single-arm amputees.

I sat there and watched them stretch their legs as I stretched my arms and I knew that it would be an uphill battle, but I also knew that nothing is impossible. As I got out to the blocks, everything from that point on became a blur up until the point when I hit the wall and turned to see my face on the big screen.

Read more: Paralympics classification controversy explained

I had done it, I had won my first Paralympic gold medal and I had done it despite my reclassification and everything that had happened. In that very moment the journey that brought me there flashed before my eyes.

Everything I had dreamed of came true. I proved to myself that no obstacle is too big to overcome. No matter what happens we all have the ability to overcome, and on Sunday I pushed my body to new limits and showcased my ability.

Follow and chat with Mallory Weggemann on Twitter

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