Opinion: Did the U.S. tune out for the Paralympics?

Story highlights

  • Swimmer Mallory Weggemann won gold in the women's S8 50m freestyle
  • The 23-year-old also took bronze as part of the 4 x 100m medley relay 34 points
  • Weggemann hopes to raise the profile of the Paralympic movement in the U.S.
  • The U.S. sent a team of 227 people to the London 2012 Paralympic Games

Returning home from the London 2012 Paralympic Games, I discovered the level of U.S. media coverage for a global sports event.

Ten days of competition, 21 sports, and 503 events crammed into five-and-a-half hours of coverage.

To think that we have 227 athletes who just returned home after representing Team USA at the largest Paralympic Games in history, where 2.7 million tickets were sold, and most Americans didn't even know about it.

That hits home personally, not only because I am a Paralympian, but because four-and-a-half years ago I was like most Americans and didn't know about the Paralympics.

Opinion: The Paralympics were brilliant, why weren't you watching?

Before I was paralyzed, I didn't so much as know the word Paralympics even existed. I was raised in a well educated household in Minnesota, but I knew nothing about the Paralympics until after my paralysis in 2008.

After I was paralyzed swimming saved me; swimming gave me hope again and allowed me to believe in what my future could hold.

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

Swimming, and being involved in the Paralympics, changed my life and changed me as a person.

Silent voices

I saw how getting involved in not only the Paralympics, but athletics changed my life. I have heard countless stories of amazing ability that my fellow Team USA teammates displayed. But how many of them were and are heard?

How many Paralympians are household names in the United States? How many households are aware of the Paralympics?

The biggest difference I noticed though was the appreciation for Paralympic athletes overseas.

During the Paralympics, when I left the village and went into London, people knew about the Games, not just knew about them but respected them and were following them.

The media coverage was totally different there. You couldn't turn on the television without seeing it, much like it is during the Olympics here in the States.

For me it is my hope that I can continue to help push the Paralympic movement forward for generations of athletes to come, just as those before me paved the way for opportunities I have been fortunate enough to experience.

So it is a weird feeling being back home. Four years of waiting and working and just like that it is all over.

I have spent time at home unpacking and organizing my things and it feels like yesterday I was packing my bags for the start of this adventure.

I trained for four-and-a-half years and it is already over. I am back home and making plans as to what I do next, starting to plan my next four years as I begin training for the Rio 2016 Games.

Overcoming adversity

I will be honest, coming home from London isn't what I expected it to be.

My goal was to come home as the Games' most successful athlete; my goal was to bring home nine gold medals.

As I got on the plane to return to Minnesota I carried one gold medal and one bronze, but I carried them with pride.

What I had to go through to earn both of those medals makes them more meaningful than nine golds ever could be.

That medal represents more than just a winning performance. That one gold medal represents hope, belief, overcoming adversity, a dream and my supporters who backed me throughout the entire journey.

When I look at it I see everything I went through to get it, the ups and the downs, the joy and the pain.

When I look at my gold medal, I see a dream that I made four-and-a-half years ago and the journey it took to achieve that dream.

In life we all make plans. We have this idea of how things are supposed to go and when they don't go according to plan we often find ourselves disappointed.

I feel that it is in those moments that we find who we are. Life doesn't go according to a plan. We can map it out, we can plan it, we can even envision it but often we find that life has a plan of its own.

My life this past month had a plan of its own. It didn't matter that I had planned that moment for the past four years, it didn't matter that I had done everything in my power to try and control the situation.

When the day came to a close the plan I had envisioned wasn't the plan that life had for me.

Bubble

Over these past few weeks, as I have tried to understand what happened and make sense of it all, I have realized everything happens for a reason.

There is a reason I was reclassified in London, there is a reason life threw me another curve ball, and there is a reason I am sitting here in a wheelchair.

As I came back home, I continued to reflect on London and felt many emotions.

As an athlete I have put a lot of thought into what I can do different next time. What can I change in my preparations over these next four years before the Rio 2016 Games?

I have also found myself settling back into life. When I was in London we as athletes were in this little bubble, the village.

We were away from the real world in many ways. We didn't think of what day of the week it was or what the date was, we thought of what day of competition it was.

Most of us were cut off from the real world because our lovely cell phones didn't work internationally.

But then we return home and real life hits. You no longer are completely focused on competition; you are no longer surrounded by other athletes in the bubble. You are home.