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'Learning to live again' with U.S. Paralympian Weggemann

By Mallory Weggemann, for CNN
updated 10:51 AM EST, Tue December 11, 2012
Mallory Weggemann (right) shows off the Paralympic gold medal she won at London 2012.
Mallory Weggemann (right) shows off the Paralympic gold medal she won at London 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mallory Weggemann won a gold and bronze medal at the 2012 Paralympics
  • The U.S. swimmer lost the use of her legs after an epidural injection in 2008
  • Weggemann holds 15 world records and 34 American records
  • She returned to a rehab center for the first time since her own injury four years ago

Editor's note:

(CNN) -- Just like that and everything you know can change. People say life can change in the blink of an eye and throughout my 23 years I have seen that happen many times.

One minute you are getting on with life and then suddenly your world changes.

I recently visited a young lady in a rehabilitation hospital. She was paralyzed on July 4 and is still an inpatient as she continues with her rehabilitation and learns how to live in a new body.

Mallory Weggemann is a U.S. Paralympic swimmer who turned to the sport after a routine epidural in 2008 left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Mallory Weggemann is a U.S. Paralympic swimmer who turned to the sport after a routine epidural in 2008 left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Mallory Weggemann
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Mallory Weggemann Mallory Weggemann
Due to the Paralympics' classification rules, South Africa's double amputee "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius can line up against runners with only one prosthetic leg. Due to the Paralympics' classification rules, South Africa's double amputee "Blade Runner" Oscar Pistorius can line up against runners with only one prosthetic leg.
Classifying disability
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She is 28 and in a single moment her life changed forever. She is a beautiful, strong woman who is learning to live all over again.

Read: Did the U.S. tune out of the Paralympics?

Visiting her reminded me that it was the first time I had been back to an inpatient rehab hospital since I was discharged in March 2008. As I sat talking with her and her family the memories flooded back.

Seeing her parents and sister reminded me of my own family dealing with the change I underwent in my life. Seeing her reminded me a lot of myself.

Scared but hopeful, determined but discouraged, unsure of what life would be like moving forward. We have to somehow find a way of picking ourselves up and continuing with life the best we can.

We spent some time talking about anger and letting go. Our situations are very different, but we both have to deal with letting go.

Read: Disaster to triumph - a week in the life of Mallory Weggemann

Tito Sena of Brazil celebrates winning the men's T46 marathon on Sunday, September 9, the final day of the London 2012 Paralympics. Tito Sena of Brazil celebrates winning the men's T46 marathon on Sunday, September 9, the final day of the London 2012 Paralympics.
Paralympics 2012: The best photos
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Alex Zanardi proudly displays the gold medal he won at the 2012 London Paralympics in the Individual H4 Time Trial. Alex Zanardi proudly displays the gold medal he won at the 2012 London Paralympics in the Individual H4 Time Trial.
Gold medal hero
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We have to face what happened and set the anger aside and make a new life for ourselves. She had wanted to spend that day on July 4 with her friends.

She went out on a boat and had a few drinks, like nearly everyone else in the state of Minnesota that day. When she dived into the lake to cool off she hit her head on a rock. She has now spent months in the hospital fighting to get movement back.

I have anger towards myself and the medical system and she has the same. We were injured very differently but both of our stories come down to choices; choices that both of us made which we will have to live with for the rest of our lives.

They are choices we are both reminded of every day when we wake up and see our wheelchairs by our bedside. It is something which will always be a part of us but it is also something which makes us who we are.

It will drive us to help make a difference in this world but it will also always remind us of our sudden moment of impact.

Fireworks light up the stadium during the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on Sunday, September 9. Check out the best photos of the Paralympic Games here. Fireworks light up the stadium during the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympic Games at Olympic Stadium on Sunday, September 9. Check out the best photos of the Paralympic Games here.
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The crowd cheers during the London 2012 Victory Parade for Team GB and Paralympic GB athletes on September 10, 2012 in London, England. The crowd cheers during the London 2012 Victory Parade for Team GB and Paralympic GB athletes on September 10, 2012 in London, England.
London 2012: The Victory Parade
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These past few years I have been afraid to go back to a rehab hospital because I was unsure I would be able to handle it emotionally, but as I sat with her there I experienced some healing.

I was able to talk to someone who understood. I was able to share my story with her and her family and give them hope for what she can have moving forward.

As I sat there wearing my brown leather boots with a heal I heard her ask in a very excited hopeful voice, "You can wear boots?"

Now as someone who has been where she has, realizing something so small as being able to wear boots again someday is exciting. It resembles being able to get back to who you were before and not being trapped wearing sweats and slippers because you can't get anything else on.

The small things are what build up and make the big things. Realizing slowly but surely you can get parts of your life back, even if it is as simple as gaining hope that someday you will be able to wear your favorite boots again.

When I left her in the hospital I thought of where I was nearly five years ago. I couldn't sit up on my own, I couldn't feed myself or dress myself. I was 100% dependent on people around me and now I am back to being stubbornly independent.

I thought of the journey my loved ones and myself have been on. How we as a family overcame this and where we are today as we approach my five-year anniversary.

As I left I realized once again everything happens for a reason. It reminded me where I came from and where I am now.

It connected me with someone in a way I have never had before and most of all I was able to give them hope to believe again in what the future could hold.

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