Posted on October 20th, 2014 by Beth Finke
An elementary school in the Chicago suburbs celebrates Disability Employment Awareness Month every year by asking people with disabilities to come talk about their jobs. Last week my Seeing Eye dog and I went to Wilmot Elementary to talk about my job moderating the blog here at Easter Seals Headquarters, and the kids there had already enjoyed a special guest before Whitney and I showed up. Melissa Stockwell, a three-time Paratriathlon World Champion and decorated U.S. Army veteran, had been at Wilmot the day before us.
Melissa was serving in Baghdad in 2004 when a roadside bomb hit the HUMVEE she was traveling in, resulting in the amputation of her left leg above the knee. She was the first female to lose a limb in active combat, and four years later, she was the first Iraqi War veteran to qualify for the Paralympics: she represented the United States on the swim team.
After Beijing, Melissa took to triathlons. She is currently a three-time World Champion, and when she isn’t running, swimming or bicycling, she works as a certified prosthetist at Scheck and Siress Prosthetics in Chicago, fitting people who have had amputations with artificial limbs.
When my talks at Wilmot were over, I took Whitney’s harness off and let any of the interested kids come by and pet her. As Whitney flipped over and over again for belly rubs, one of the school volunteers there told me that after the presentation the day before, Melissa Stockwell had the kids come up and touch the prosthetics she works with.
How cool. “I want to go to this school!” I exclaimed to the gaggle of kids at my feet, all of them reaching out to pet Whitney. “I know,” one of them said. “We’re lucky.”