It was around this time that 18-year-old Weggemann had an epidural injection for back pain, complications from the procedure ultimately leaving her paralyzed from waist to toe. “It’s with me every day in the four wheels beneath me.”
Forced to negotiate a new way of life, the Minnesota native remembers how she felt in the months that followed.
Trying to contemplate his new way forward, Weggemann turned to an old passion.
“When I returned to the pool, I realized that this was the only place that was unchanged: water is water, chlorine is chlorine. It brought me closer to my past and given a way forward. “
Weggemann is adamant when she says: “Swimming has really saved my life in so many ways.”
One of the reasons why it was so difficult for Weggemann to come to terms with his disability, beyond the physical challenges, was the image presented to him of people with disabilities.
“We see disability in society as something to be complained about: the worst-case scenario. We don’t see the potential behind it.”
But Weggemann, who has grown proud of her disability, is quick to point out that it is not her entire identity.
“The company wanted to explain to me what life should be like with a disability. The reality is that I have been married for five years, I dream of a family, I am a business owner, an athlete. All the things that the company said weren’t for people like me. “
Not to mention the author’s title, with his book “Limitless” which hit shelves earlier this year.
Weggemann is particularly proud of his company, TFA Group, which seeks to “change the perception of disability in our society through the power of storytelling”.
Weggemann and her husband Jay are the co-CEOs and are working diligently to disseminate stories of triumph over adversity with projects like their “Impact Films” series of short documentaries on athletes living with a disability that can be found on major streaming platforms.
But even his work with TFA brought Weggemann back to the water. One of those projects she worked on was the 2018 short film “Amazing Grace”, the story of 14-year-old Grace Bunke, a fellow swimmer who lost her battle with childhood cancer.
Weggemann got the chance to swim and spend a day with Grace in 2018, and the young athlete’s passion for raising funds for childhood cancer research left a lasting impression on the American Paralympian, leading to the documentary which chronicled the Battle of Grace.
Weggemann swam in Grace’s honor at a “Swim Across America” event in Atlanta earlier this year. She was joined by Grace’s mother, Vicki, who swam 14 meetings in honor of her daughter (one for each year in Grace’s life) with sponsorships and proceeds from the race intended for research against the Cancer.
“Grace was an energetic young woman, she could connect with everyone around her. And Vicki has so courageously shared Grace with the world for years, so swimming alongside her was really special.”
For Weggemann, it’s a reminder of what his beloved sport, swimming, can accomplish beyond the pool, medals, accolades or discussions of disabilities.
“It’s a reminder of how far the sport can go. This swim had nothing to do with winning or running. It was about using the sport for good and allowing it to be a beacon to do something that has the power to change lives. ”
For the five-time Paralympic medalist, swimming was the outlet that helped her make sense of her situation, but Weggemann hopes her message resonates even beyond sport.
“We all carry moments that bring trauma, grief, loss and adversity. But in the end, we are more than our circumstance. I hope more than hearing my story, I hope that it will encourage people to honor theirs. ”