AAW 010 Weggemann-Final
November 15, 2021
Transcription is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
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Welcome to AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities of accessibility for people with disabilities. I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And I’m Albert Rizzi, and this is AccessAbility Works podcast. So today we’re going to be meeting with Mallory Weggemann, Paralympian, listening to her life, talking about–
An amazing human being.
Oh, without a doubt.
With an amazing story, an absolutely spectacular story.
Oh, my god, I fell in love with her from the moment she said hello. She had me at “hello.” Yeah, no, Mallory is a fantastic personality.
Yeah, she’s a holder of three? Three gold medals.
She’s got a lot of medals– three gold medals from Tokyo.
Three gold medals, one silver, and one bronze. Let me go through them.
First gold medal she got in 2012 for the 15-meter freestyle. And she also got a bronze that year for 100-meter medley. And then she was in the Rio games in 2016. And then this year, the 2020-2021 COVID games–
It does seem like that from the things we’ve heard about it. It was the COVID Paralympics.
Yes. The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics– she won gold in the 200-meter medley– medley? And silver in the 50-meter butterfly.
And that was in Tokyo.
That was in Tokyo.
Yeah. And then she’s got her sights set on the games in Paris and Los Angeles over the next few years. And we learned all about her, her husband Jeremy.
His name is Jeremy, but he goes by J.
Yes, that’s true– how she became a member of the disability community and how swimming and jumping in the pool gave her the strength to go after the gold.
But before we get to the interview, a bit of news.
Jon, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but a little bird just whispered in my ear. This is our 10th episode.
I know. And we keep on keeping on.
Looking forward to 10 more.
10 more, and then some. Woo-hoo. Keep on keeping on. By this time next year–
Just 10 more and that’s it.
Then we’re done. We’re out.
So happy Disability Employment Awareness Month. October is Disability Awareness Month. A lot of organizations, corporations, and community-based organizations are doing their part to lift up and celebrate the disability community’s contribution to America’s workforce. So if you’re out there working, keep on keeping on. And let the temporarily able-bodied community of people know what we’re about. What else has been going on?
It’s your favorite time of year.
Spooky month, yes.
When everyone becomes me for a month.
Basically, a freak of nature. Yeah, and Jon’s been performing at a haunted house here in Long Island over at Bald Hill for any of those within–
They changed the name from the Bald Hill Amphitheater to the Long Island Community Hospital Amphitheater.
Oh, well, that’s a mouthful. I am still going to be calling it Bald Hill. That’s a lot of words to say for the amphitheater. But anyway, so Long Island Community Hospital Amphitheater, where they’re performing– this will be coming out probably just around the last weekend or days after the last performance.
The last weekend is Halloween weekend.
Correct, spooky day. It is accessible. It is disability-friendly.
Yeah, I think the important part is that it is wheelchair-accessible, which not many haunted houses are.
Yeah, that’s exciting.
There was one more bit of news, though.
What is that?
Something you brought up to me about a man in some state in the United States or Mexico. I don’t know.
Yeah, no, Utah– there has been some interesting breakthroughs in some scientific research and testing going on with people who have lost their eyesight in a similar manner that I did, where the optic nerve and information that flows from the eyes to the brain is not working. And this woman was able to, through having a chip implanted in her brain, make out certain letters– I’s, L’s. I forget what the other ones were.
And gave her back some, I guess, interpretable sight. I won’t say usable. But it is cutting-edge, and I am so looking forward to following that one. We just probably put that out on our social media. So look for that, anybody who has optic nerve damage or issues with the information going from your eye to your brain– really promising stuff. Yeah, thanks for reminding me about that.
The woman’s name is Berna Gomez. She’s from Elche, Spain, and she’s a science teacher. So not only was she a candidate for the study, but she actually was an author of the white paper and the research that was done because of her ability to record information as a science teacher in a manner that really, really impacted the research and the outcomes and the data collection.
So that’s something I’d like everybody to follow with us as we do the same here at My Blind Spot and AccessAbility Works. And without further ado, let’s jump into the pool with Mallory Weggemann, gold medalist, Paralympian advocate, and author of the book, Limitless– the Power of Hope and Resilience. Hey, Mallory, how are you?
I’m doing great. How are you?
Cannot complain. Thanks for joining Jon and I today. Congratulations on all those medals you won in Tokyo.
Thank you so much. I’m excited to join you all. And the medals hardly seem real. It’s crazy. The games that we never thought would happen happened. And I had the honor to bring home a few medals with me afterwards.
What was different about this year’s competitions that– how many have you participated in so far?
So I’ve been to three Paralympic Games.
That’s what I’ve heard. And what made this one different for you?
So many different elements. I would say Tokyo was unique in a lot of ways that were just unique to Tokyo, right? I always tell people, each games is very different, because you get some of the culture of each of the host cities and countries, which is the remarkable part, where no one is the same. And also your journey, right? I mean, there’s four years between a games or, in this situation, five.
And you as an individual have a lot of growth that happens. So your perspective during each games is also slightly different. But Tokyo in general– I mean, the obvious of we didn’t have our families. There were no spectators. And COVID protocols were a real thing and necessary to allow the games to happen in a safe way– to literally bring our world together into one little community– but also a big stress.
There’s a lot of athletes who we’ve spoke about just that month leading into the games and the stress of understanding that five years of our journey and five years of sacrifice and holding space to keep a dream alive came down to making certain that, come the week of travel, our tests were negative– that we were getting on an airplane. And then to get there and be half a world away from the very people that supported us, especially these past 18 months, and were with us day in and day out as we navigated through, and be a world away from them was very emotional in so many ways. But I would say there were also a lot of remarkable moments that came from that in just how we connected.
And thank goodness for technology and that ability to utilize technology to still connect, even when we’re distanced. And so there were a lot of things that made it different. But I think some of the things that made it different will be what made them also the most memorable.
I could totally see that, especially now with the technologies, which is what we do at My Blind Spot. We create these digital environments that allow people with disabilities to actually navigate the internet and mobile apps and the like. But was this is your first time in Tokyo?
It was my first time in Tokyo. And I’m bummed I didn’t actually get to explore much of Tokyo at all because we were really just in the village or in the venue. I guess I saw the airport. You really just saw the bits and pieces in between. But I would say that the hospitality was–
Absolutely remarkable, remarkable.
I’ve been to Tokyo. I spent about three and a half weeks in Tokyo once while in Japan. And the hospitality is just like no other country I’ve ever been to before. I was in Tokyo. Then we took the bullet train out to Okayama, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nara.
And then we went north to Hakone, north of Tokyo, to the hot springs, where they have the begonia gardens. And we were fortunate to be up on top of this mountain where they actually made hard-boiled eggs in the sulfur steam baths there and everything. And the clouds cleared away.
And I’m looking out, and I’m like, oh, my god, [INAUDIBLE] what is that? “Oh, that Mount Fuji.” She’s– you never get to see that. It’s always clouded. So it was just like no other place I’ve ever been to before. And we went to some really off the beaten places– not high-traffic, touristy things. It’s just remarkable. And I’m glad I did get to see that before I lost my eyesight.
But congratulations on your wins. Congratulations on another memorable experience. And just to give us a little bit of background of who you are, I lost my eyesight late in life. And I understand you had a similar circumstance with your paralysis. Can you give us a little bit about your history, where you grew up, how you started, and what led you to believe– to become– this Paralympic gold medalist winner extraordinaire?
Yes, as I like to paraphrase what Albert just said is, who is what Mallory Weggemann?
Who is Mallory Weggemann? Oh, my goodness. Well, where do we start? No, I’m just kidding. So first thing’s first, I grew up in Minnesota. It’s where my husband and I still live. I’m a Minnesota girl, through and through.
And I grew up with a love for the sport of swimming. I’ve been a competitive swimmer since I was seven years old. And I’ve always enjoyed the water. And when I was 18 years old, just following high school graduation, I was paralyzed from a medical procedure that didn’t go as planned. And it was two months before my 19th birthday.
And I think unfortunately, naturally, as we, most of us, respond to these sudden moments of impact in our lives, the knee-jerk reaction is to go to like, here’s all the ways it’s going to change my life, and not change my life for the better. But here’s all the roadblocks it’s going to bring. And I think even the most positive of us, we– that’s the knee jerk.
It’s COVID hit, and it’s like, oh, my gosh, everything changed. Now what? And so at 18, I was left in this place of everything has changed. Now what? I was new to the disability community. I frankly grew up pretty sheltered from the conversation, not by choice, but just by the makeup of our community, and pretty ignorant to just not knowing what I didn’t know.
And so when I was paralyzed, my family and I just were drinking from a fire hose of figuring out what life after injury could look like, because my experience in the medical system I was in– it wasn’t life served on a silver platter of here’s all the incredible opportunities. It’s generally, here’s all the things you’re never going to do again and the doomsday. And so it was starting to figure out, how do we change that narrative and see the possibility?
And fortunately for me, I found my way back to the sport of swimming just two and a half months after my paralysis. And I got back in the water pretty much immediately following my injury. And I didn’t start swimming thinking, oh, I’m going to go become a three-time Paralympian. I started swimming because I just needed a place to go that hadn’t changed. I needed a constant.
And when you think about it, the black line– it really doesn’t matter what you faced or where in the world you are, it’s there. It stops 1.6 meters from the wall in every pool you’ll ever go to and comes to a T. It’s not changing. And at a time where everything else was, I needed that constant.
And in a lot of ways, swimming saved my life. It helped redirect me. It helped bridge my past with my present and guide me towards something in the future. It allowed me to understand that my life didn’t have to be broken up into two eras of before paralysis and after. I could just be Mallory Weggemann. And that was a really important thing for me to learn at that young age, early into my injury, as I looked forward to what it was that I wanted in my future.
If I could interject for a second, from the outside looking in, it looked like, as far as your swimming career goes, you didn’t let the incident, the accident, you being paralyzed– you didn’t let it slow you down. You changed my opinion of it because it seems like it helped you get over it even. So it’s a whole different story than I even thought.
That’s the one thing, too. Swimming can be very therapeutic for a variety of injuries that people have. But when you are a swimmer– I actually swam on my high school team. And my dad had dreams of me becoming an Olympic swimmer, but I didn’t.
But swimming is fantastic. And it’s great to calm the mind, calm the spirit, exercise every muscle in your body. And that you dove into something that you had always loved, and it was there to carry you through, is in and of itself– I didn’t have that when I lost my eyesight. Again, I was handed this platter of, here’s the stuff you have to deal with. It’s all crap. Now you have to figure out how to piece it together. What do you do?
And that’s just remarkable that you were able to maintain that interest, that love, and it didn’t change. You don’t hear that often– that things that– when something traumatic happens, or life throws you a curveball, that one area doesn’t change at all, but actually got better for you.
It was really interesting. When you really unpack that swimming journey, I think what’s remarkable is– you’re right. From the outside looking in, it seems like swimming just took off. And it really did. But what’s been neat over time to be able to step back and unpack what really went on is seeing that after my injury, I needed that constant, as I spoke of. I needed that place to go.
But I also– I didn’t feel like I looked to a world around me where there was a place for me. I felt really isolated. I felt as if– and I didn’t feel it. It’s fact, as we know. The disability community is extremely underrepresented in our society. And that is extremely isolating when you are new to it, you haven’t developed your confidence in this new identity, you are struggling to find your place.
It’s really hard to become what you do not see and that you can’t find that path forward. And so for me the pool early on– what stemmed and allowed those first few years of my career to unfold was– yes, it was my constant. It was where I felt free. It was my place to go and process and grieve.
But I also felt early on in my paralysis that I needed to prove that I wasn’t paralyzed. Like I had this feeling that society told me it’s not OK to be paralyzed. It’s not OK to be disabled. We’re going to hope for you to walk again. We’re going to do all of these things. And we’re telling you, in order for you to, quote, unquote, “be whole” after an injury, you need to be back on two FEET moving like the injury never happened.
And so I dove in over that black line. And I was like, well, if I can break an American record, I must not be all that paralyzed. If I can break a world record, I’m not paralyzed. Or if I can do this, then I’m not disabled. And that was the initial journey over the back line.
But I think what I so appreciate now is the black line ultimately taught me and allowed me to understand, no, I’m an individual with a disability. I am proud of it. It’s not my defining factor, but it’s a fabric of my being. And I don’t need to brush my identity aside in order to showcase my talents.
And I am proud of what my body can do. And the black line did allow me to heal. And healing is not just standing and walking or being able to see again or whatever it might be. Healing is where we get to spiritually, emotionally, and mentally after.
Well said. Well said.
Yeah, and I live by that credo myself. I remember when the doctors told me that it was a 90% chance I’d be blind the rest of my life and 10% chance that science or miracles might happen. But in order for that science or miracle to happen, we’ve got to figure out how to get a needle in my optic nerve and inject it with stem cell.
I do believe I’m going to see again, probably just in time to be 95 in Depends undergarments, drooling into a cup. But it will happen. And I’m not banking on that. And I have– like you, my blindness is just another characteristic of who I am. I’m a person who happens to be blind.
My blindness does not define me. Even though some people want to dislabel me as disabled, I’m very able to do just about anything, provided I have access to those tools that allows my innate ability to thrive, so I can create my own personal possibilities that are infinite. So it’s nice to be with a kindred spirit who doesn’t take things lying down and embraced her new identity and– well, not new– her identity that was– through no choice of our own, we joined this community of movers and shakers who impacted the human condition.
If you take a look– and I did that. I wanted to know, what does this new club I belong to look like? Who are they? And we can go back centuries to find that people with disabilities have always impacted the human condition and have always made a difference in the world.
But for some reason, we turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. And we isolate, we segregate, we marginalize, and we disenfranchise people who are living with a disability in society. And it just– I don’t get it. Like you said, if there’s nobody out there for me to look to, to strive to be like or become, what do we do?
When I was in the hospital, my dad said, well, you know, it sucks to be you. But now you’ve got to go out there and be the son I raised and be a person who’s not just blind, but be the best blind person you can be, because you’re going to have to set that standard.
Yeah, it’s an interesting conversation, especially within individuals who became a part of the club versus were born into the club.
There’s a different perspective on both sides of that coin. And they both carry their own experience and their own weight. And that was probably the most startling realization for me– that it wasn’t going to be about, how do I adapt to the fact that I now do things a little bit differently?
The biggest struggle I was going to have is, how do I navigate a society that wants to box me in because of the circumstance I carry? And that was really challenging and, frankly, still is. I mean, goodness, I’m almost 14 years out from my injury. And I was just having this conversation the other day with some colleagues and friends.
And I said, if I go to the grocery store, and I’m alone, and my husband’s not with me, or I’m not out and about with friends shopping or whatever it might be, it’s probably a 95% chance that somebody makes some completely offhanded comments, like just utterly disrespectful, offhand comment. If I’m with somebody, it’s maybe a 50% chance. If I’m with a group, it goes to like maybe 25%. Like the more people around me, the less emboldened society is.
And it’s interesting. Just to take that to the next level is that I’ll be out shopping with Jon or with anybody, for that matter, and inevitably the cashier hands my credit card or starts talking to the person next to me instead of to me directly. I’m not capable of processing my own purchases. I remember one time this happened.
And I’m like, ma’am, you’re not talking to me. Who are you talking to? Because I could tell the way the sound was going to. I’m talking to your wife. I said, I don’t have a wife. I’m here by myself. And the lady next to me goes, well, then this is your credit card. I was like, really? It’s just so funny.
And I was singing in the church choir down here years and years ago. And right in front of me, they start whispering, well, how are we going to get Albert up on the altar? And they’re like, well, we don’t know. You think he’s going to have a problem?
And I lean in, and I go, well, he’s not deaf. He can hear you. He’s got a guide dog. Watch what happens. And I walked right up on the altar. I said, problem solved, people. It’s just so interesting how at home– and I always contemplate this quite a bit now, is that I– we’re at home.
Jeremy doesn’t call you the crippled girl. My parents don’t call me the blind kid. We are Mallory. We are Albert. And then we leave our homes, and you would think that because we leave our homes, and one in four people know somebody like us, that our society and the communities we live in would embrace us. But they still look at us as– what do we do? How do we talk to them? How how do we process this? It’s just weird.
It is. And it’s how do we change that narrative? And I say this hesitantly because I don’t– there’s two ways to interpret this. How do we normalize it? But that’s not normalizing disability by saying, we can’t talk about disability. We need to pretend like it doesn’t exist because that makes us all more comfortable with it.
It’s saying, no, just like some people have brown hair and some people have blond hair and some people have like– it’s just, to your point, a characteristic. And how do we normalize accepting that as a part of what our society looks like? And I think that that is so important.
And we’re having a lot of conversations in our household right now because Jay and I are on the beginning phase of being excited about starting a family. And some of our conversations are rooted around what is it going to be for our kids? Because I’ve had the comment time and time again from strangers, not of if I can have children, but of what type of mother could I be?
Oh, my god.
That’s a disgusting conversation.
But you understand, too. No, Jon, this is– oh, my god. I remember when I first lost my eyesight, reading in New York City, in Brooklyn, this blind couple had their children taken away from them– newborn. And the baby was in foster care for six months, those very formative months and years, because they didn’t think the blind people could be a parent.
This really happens in America today. It’s unfortunate. You’re going to be a fantastic mother. What does it matter whether you’re rolling through life or walking through life? Because I’ve seen a lot of people walking upright who should not be parents at all.
Yeah. No, and I appreciate that. And it’s–
I can understand having some questions about logistics. But never crossed my mind to consider that you would be unfit for motherhood. How is that even a thought?
Yeah. I think, again, it’s–
It’s ignorance. And I try to carry grace of understanding that I moved through life for nearly 19 years and did not know what I did not know when [INAUDIBLE] this conversation. And so meeting that ignorance with grace is more often than not my knee-jerk reaction, no matter how undeserving it is of grace, right?
You can just be quiet, sir. I do have grace. I just have to temper it sometimes. No, because there are instances like– no, I know what you’re talking about. I walk in, and I don’t present as a person who is obviously blind. And when I walk into the buildings in New York City with my dog, inevitably, I’ll have somebody say, sir, no animals.
And I’m like, OK. And I’ll say, about. And we’ll go to the door, come back about, find the elevator. And they’ll go, sir, I just told you. And I say very clearly, I would like to borrow your eyes, so you can see what’s in front of you. I’m going to try this one more time because I’m from Brooklyn. We grew up in Long Island, but, I mean, I have an attitude. Jon’s right. I could use a little more grace.
But I am now an ambassador. I can’t be diplomatic when I get upset. It’s ridiculous people are not seeing what’s right in front of them to understand, oh, you’re blind. Yes. Now may I have an elevator?
But there is a very important calling I feel that has been bestowed upon us, you and I and others like us, to help educate and inform and eradicate the ignorance about the way we move through life. We still do it. We just do it with a little different flair.
Yeah. I do think I’ve put a charge to myself, even though that having grace is a big part of that conversation, because I think if we can create more empathy and understanding, the likelihood that we leave a lasting impact for the other person in a way that creates a meaningful conversation is higher. If I just snap on somebody, there’s going to be, like, wow, she was just a really bitter individual in a wheelchair. And it’s like, oh, that’s not what we want.
We want to say– give them the moment of grace. If they keep pushing, then they don’t deserve it anymore. But try to change the narrative and change the conversation and bring them in as an ally, as we educate, because I do firmly believe a lot of this stems from, yes, there are some just cruel people in our world. But there’s also just a lot of– because we have a lack of representation in society, we don’t know what we don’t know. Just like I didn’t know what my path forward could look like, because I had never seen it growing up, individuals who surround us don’t know what the path forward for individuals in the disability community can look like, because they’re not used to seeing it, either.
Right. And I grew up with cousins and neighbors who had varying abilities. Some of them had mental retardation. Some of them had cerebral palsy. Others, like cousins and neighbors, were– back in the day when we didn’t eradicate measles, their mom had measles, and the child was just– the development was like destroyed.
I didn’t call them disabled. We just called them John, Ellen, Christopher. They were family. They were friends. And yet I had never seen people like that in the schools. I had never met a blind person until I myself lost my eyesight.
And that’s what I heard you say before, is about we don’t have any social markers for inclusion in our schools. And I think if we don’t see it in our schools, we don’t expect to see it in our academic institutions. And we don’t expect to see them in our workplaces. And then we don’t see them at all.
Yeah, it’s very true. It starts in– and I think that’s where I get hopeful for our future, is if we can start through the power of media, through content reaching the younger generation earlier, that that has a trickle effect in what our world’s going to look like in 20 years. And for me, that’s one of my big passions around sport and the Paralympic movement, is sport is this common language, if you will. Even if you’re not a big sports fan, you have memories of gathering with friends and family to get together for the Super Bowl or for opening ceremonies of an Olympic or Paralympic Games.
Or Little League or a high school team.
Yes, right? You’re used to seeing the community that comes around. And so with the Paralympic movement, we have the opportunity to, in a very real way, completely flip the narrative upside down on its head of how we view individuals with disabilities and realizing the capabilities that lie within and using sport as that common denominator, if you will.
And then the power that has to transcend the field of play and really impact our perception in our society I think is so vital, because for me as an individual, it changed my perception of self early on in my injury and how I viewed living life as an individual with a disability. But it also changed perception in the community around me. Sport was kind of the way that we could talk about it.
And you can bring people into the fold and into the conversation through a different lens. And I think that that’s really remarkable. And we’ve seen that play out with young children. I mean, Barbie now has a Barbie that is in a monoski and is a downhill skier. That is on the shelf at Target and stores. I mean, kids can go through an aisle, and they might be walking but look up and see Barbie in a monoski and be like, what’s that?
Or American Doll has a blind doll, or they have a doll in a wheelchair. We’re starting to see representations of ability. And that’s one of the things when– before I lost my eyesight, I was a teacher and a principal. And I had a pre-K program in the South Bronx.
And it was difficult at best to find representations of ability in the types of toys that toddlers would play with– puzzles and dolls and things like that. But I found it because I didn’t want my children growing up without a perception of what diversity really looked like. And I believe that people with disabilities are at the intersectionality of every other group in the world. Whether you are ethnic diverse, race diverse, gender orientation, religion differences, everybody in the world will acquire a disability. It doesn’t have any prejudice– that common factor, I think, in all of us, as we age into or be born into the disability community.
So I have a comment or a question or something that might be a little off-track. But I have to bring up the movie The Ringer– I’m sorry– from 2005. I never really put thought into the Paralympics before I saw that movie. But the concept of the movie is the character that Johnny Knoxville plays is trying to rig the Special Olympics.
And you think it’s going to be easy. But when he gets there, he finds skilled athletes that he has– he can’t beat them because they’re better than him because they actually train and are athletes. And he’s just some schmo.
And John Knoxville is such an authority on things, you know.
It plays into your question about empathy because it gave me empathy for–
Yeah, no, and that’s the thing I think a lot of us tend to– I know we have a mutual acquaintance, Mallory, in one John Kemp.
Yeah, I love John. And I’ve always said that I wanted to be the poster child for ability because I wanted to give it a different look and different feel. I didn’t like the poster child of yesterday when the kid would come out and crutches. And he goes, I was that kid.
And I said, oh, no, really? I mean, no, you’re not anymore. He goes, no, I was that child. I was the poster child. And I’m like, oh, my god. But you know, it’s like people– that we create– that going back now, when John made that connection, I get it now– the sympathy or the low expectation people have.
But when we take a look at the compassionate empathy and accept our capabilities and people like you who demonstrate what it’s like and put people like Johnny Knoxville and his character on his butt, how do you feel? Do you see a difference between compassionate empathy versus sympathetic approaches to inclusion?
There’s kind of two things to unpack from that conversation, so I’m going to jump on the first one and dovetail into the second.
As far as it goes towards sympathy versus empathy and compassion, I tell people all the time, I’m not sorry.
I’m not sorry I’m paralyzed. I don’t need you to be sorry. I’m not. I am a better person because of January 21, 2008. And while that was an extremely challenging season in my life, and while that day carried a lot of trauma for me, I am so grateful for where I am today and the things that life has carried me into, because I wouldn’t know my husband if my paralysis never happened.
I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I wouldn’t have the perspective I have. And frankly, I wouldn’t be the fullest version of who I am today without it, because while it doesn’t define me, it is a big part of how I’ve grown into who I am today. So I don’t need sympathy because I’m not sorry.
And sympathy and empathy are very, very, very different, because sympathy– in my opinion, it takes the power away from the individual. And empathy empowers the individual, right? So your empathy doesn’t need to be– how’s the best way to say this? Let’s just put it this way. You don’t need to understand in order to have empathy.
So if we were a more empathetic society, we would be a better society. But the problem is we all try to understand too much. We try to say we know what it’s like to go through x, y, and z. Or I roll into a room, and we immediately want to jump to, I was in a wheelchair once, too, when I broke my leg. And it’s like, ooh, I get where you’re going with that, but this isn’t the same conversation.
Maybe instead of trying to always understand each other, we could just say, you know what? I can’t understand that perspective. But I can have empathy for the perspective that you’ve gained. And I think that’s a really big thing because that also empowers the individual rather than taking it away.
Taking away their power.
No, no, no, I was just going to say– and in terms of The Ringer– I love that you bring this up.
You know, I do remember that movie. And funny enough, while it came out in 2005, I don’t know that I had ever seen it until after my injury. And one of the things in there– it’s a fantastic kind of example of what ableism looks like in our society– of this idea that I, able-bodied person, can do this better than you, individual with a disability, because I’m able-bodied.
And the minute somebody with a disability can do it maybe better or be more successful at it, we scratch our heads. Like, how can you do that? Because we project our own insecurities onto others around us versus empowering them and lifting them up and understanding that just because somebody lives with a disability does not mean they’re less than in their capabilities.
Correct. And that is something, again, to your point, if we applied that simple perspective in life, our society in the United States and our global society would be better off for it.
Wow. I didn’t expect you to take us down to a deep place like that, Jonathan.
I didn’t expect that movie to pop into my head, but it did.
I love it. And also, can we just talk about entertainment in general and–
Yeah, go ahead.
–and authentic representation? I mean, granted, Johnny Knoxville was imitating somebody in truly how the character was written in. But how many roles that are written and are portrayed by individuals who are not individuals with disabilities, and they’re acting the disability? That’s a scratch your head moment, too, that I have.
One of the main characters had Down syndrome. He was– I believe, at least, he was a real guy with Down syndrome. And he has some killer lines in the movie. And I’m sure most of the athletes were actual athletes, too.
But I agree with you. But I’m on the fence, too. Actors are supposed to act and give us a sense of fantasy. I don’t begrudge people who are not people with a disability or people who are not LGBT or people who are LGBT playing roles that are straight people or [INAUDIBLE] gay people.
I do take umbrance– I guess that’s the word I can use here– with casting directors that refuse to cast a person with a disability in a role. Or even if we’re going to film, let’s go into advertising. There is no advertising out there, at least only starting to happen now, where we have models that are representing the disability community authentically or clothes that we can wear.
There’s a shift happening right now, and I don’t know what to attribute it to, save for one thing. And I really would like your opinion on this. You mentioned, Mallory, that younger generation. As an educator, I look to make sure that the youth, our future leaders, have as much before them as they need to be productive contributors of our society.
And at the same time, people in my age group and older– the Baby Boomers– are aging into this community at an alarming rate. And they have made the most wealth in human history, ever. And they don’t want to give that up. And they have to work longer.
Our youth are now more diverse than ever, more accepting than ever, more inclusive than ever, because we don’t have these neighborhood boundaries anymore that limit our ability to step outside our comfort zones or the same staid neighborhoods we grew up in. We have friends around the world that we get on the internet with. So we see some of the lives that people are living.
And we want to make sure everybody is equally treated. We want people to be binary or non-gender-specific or all of these different pronoun things and all of these inclusive directions that the youth are taking our society in, coupled with the fact that the aging population is going to become people with disabilities. And I think we have an opportunity here, for the first time in history, for a perfect storm where disabilities are going to be celebrated, because if we don’t, then the Baby Boomers are just going to be basically out of luck.
Yeah. You know, it’s an interesting conversation, because I think you’ve got two sides of it, right? With our next generation, I think is– it is. It’s more accepting than ever.
And some of the conversations that you’re seeing our youth have– it is remarkable that that is the conversation being had in those fundamental years of adolescence. And then we look at the aging side of our society and the Baby Boomers. And I totally agree that we are going to have individuals entering the disability community at an extremely high rate due to age.
However, I would also say that can be a pro, but it can also be a con, because we often– unfortunately, if we’re not educated properly on disability, we just assume that the only way to be an individual with a disability is because, well, you just got old. And now you’re grandma, and you need a wheelchair to get about. And the phrase to me of, “Oh, you’re too young to have a spinal cord injury.”
It’s like, no, I’m not. It can happen at any age. Or you’re too young to be disabled, or you don’t look like you should be in a wheelchair. And it’s like– but it doesn’t have one look. It doesn’t have one age. It doesn’t have one demographic.
To your point earlier, it crosses all demographics. And so it is– I think with the age of our Baby Boomers and more individuals coming into the community, gives us an opportunity. But I think it also makes the conversation more crucial than ever, because we need to make sure that we’re having the right conversation and educating properly, so we don’t now just associate disability with age.
Again, I’m with you 100%. There’s something happening in society. I’ve had people, like you– oh, I’m so sorry that happened to you. Why, did you do it to me? Don’t be sorry. I, like you, have never seen more clearly in my entire life.
If I had not lost my eyesight, I would not have this beautiful home and this beautiful relationship that I have today. And if somebody came to me tomorrow and said, Albert, you’re getting your eyesight back, but everything that you’ve touched, everything that you’ve lived, everything that you have experienced will be erased, and you’ll go back to square one. And you will be a principal in the South Bronx, and your life will go on as it would have been. No, thank you. I’m very content with my life the way it is now. I’d rather stay blind. I’ve never seen more clearly in my entire life.
But it is. It’s so true. I think that is also part of this conversation that’s so important, is we naturally assume that disability is the worst case scenario.
It’s the thing that sparks conversation of, well, what would your quality of life be? And I think it’s important to be able to say, you know, my life is not a consolation prize for what could have been.
I am so beyond fulfilled in everything that I am doing. And are there days where living life on four wheels is challenging? Yeah, of course there are. But there’s days where being on two feet’s challenging, too. My hardship is not all rooted in the fact that I’m paralyzed. I’m also just a person who has other things that go on in life. When the hardship is rooted in the fact that I’m paralyzed, more often than not, it’s because of society and the world I’m trying to navigate, because it’s just not built for the disability community.
And that’s why we’re having these conversations because technology can unite us. It can be the equalizer. It can be the thing that brings us together, barrier-free. We are seeing a more accepting generation coming behind us who, if we educate them properly, can literally change the game for our future generations in terms of what that world will look like for them.
We have technology making wheelchairs lighter, making advancements in all sorts of mobility devices to enhance independence. It’s remarkable to see this shift. And then the driving force forward is to make sure now we make the most of it, and we do right by what it could bring for our future generations.
And again, yes, yes, and oh, yeah, yes. I have a colleague. I don’t know if you know Jim Sinocchi. He heads up accessibility at JPMorgan Chase. He had a spinal cord injury some 40 years ago. And we were at this conference, speaking together.
And they wanted to take pictures. And I turned to him, and I said, so tell me the truth. Do we squat down, and everybody sit next to you? He’s like, no. And I can’t see what he’s– wait one second. And I’m just standing there.
And I hear things happening. And next thing I know, he’s whispering in my ear, I have a new wheelchair. And he’s got one of these chairs that can actually make him stand up, so he can stand behind a podium. That was so cool.
While we’re on the topic, I’m a sci-fi nerd. I love the idea of innovation in every direction. And how do you feel about maybe like an exosuit, like a thin, lightweight little exosuit, like something that goes on your legs that could help you walk again? Or in Albert’s case, it would be like a pair of glasses that could let him see again through a computer and a chip inside his head. How do you feel about those technologies?
You know, so a little backstory– I walked down the aisle when my husband and I got married in 2016.
Shut up. Really?
Oh, my god. I just got chills.
So I worked after the Rio Games. I for three months went to PT to learn how to– obviously, I don’t have the ability to get function back, at least not at this point in time. Depending on how medicine goes, obviously that could always change. But right now, I don’t.
And I used custom carbon fiber leg braces. They were not mechanical in nature, but they did lock my legs out and support them. And then there was a little device in the middle, up near the top of my legs, that turned the braces into an A-frame almost. And it had a spring-loaded hinge on it.
And so it helped initiate the hip movement under tension. And so basically, I walked locked out, straight leg, using my core to facilitate the spring with arm crutches. It’s extremely slow. It uses a ton of energy. It took months of PT to learn how to do it– to walk with my dad on one side, a forearm crutch on the other, and to have my legs covered when I otherwise can’t see them, and I can’t– if I can’t see them, I can’t feel them, right?
And so it was a lot, but I did it purely because it was a moment I had dreamed of. My dad was with me when I was paralyzed. He was in the room when it happened. And he was the last person I walked with. And I wanted to empower myself to say, I get to choose how this story goes.
And just because that day in that procedure room I was paralyzed by a physician doing a procedure does not mean that that moment gets to determine every moment moving forward. And so I didn’t walk because I needed to feel beautiful and bridal, and the only way to do so is to be on two feet. I purely did it because it was my way of saying, I get a choice in how this goes.
That is beautiful to the point of a fairytale.
I love you. I love you so much. You’re so beautiful. I’m sorry. I’m choked up here. Oh, my god. And again, while you were telling me that story, it had nothing to do with what– trying to get back what you lost. It had to do with how you were defining you.
Yeah, right? And I think that that is such an important part of the conversation when we talk about– whether it’s the future of exo, whether it’s glasses that could, through technology, help individuals who are blind see. Whatever it is, I think the important part of the conversation is what you just said. Why are we doing it? And how are we using it to empower the individual versus trying to, quote, unquote, “fix” them?
And that’s something I’m really passionate about because I don’t need to walk down an aisle to be whole. And if I choose to do so, that’s a choice of my doing. But I sat down that night in my sitting dress in my wheelchair and cut the dance floor up with my husband and felt just as bridal in that moment as I did walking down the aisle to “Canon in D” with my dad. And I think that that’s an important part of this conversation– as technology advances, and we catch the rest of society up, is making sure we don’t inadvertently go backwards in where we are in this conversation.
That’s kind of funny because Jonathan is a big gamer. I grew up hating video games, because I swore my brother was cheating, but he was just better at it than I was. And now, we used to invite kids over to our house to play the console. We’d fight over who had the joystick longer than the other– all these things.
But now I’ve come to appreciate gaming in a different way. But again, it’s going back to the technology thing. You can play games with people all over the world. You don’t play in your own little cubicle anymore. It allows people who I call are landlocked or locationally challenged in places that, because of a disability, they can’t even get out of their homes to escape, to go to another place, another plane, be another person, and play a game with people who they wouldn’t otherwise meet, so.
Right. The one person I consistently play video games with is my friend Mike, who’s a military veteran who had an IED explode behind him. And he has a fused spine. He’s 100% disabled legally because of it, and he’s pretty much got to stay at home at this point.
But he’ll figure that out. Again, it’s all new to him. And I think– and you may agree, Mallory. As we deal with these traumas, whether it’s personally or through the person we love, we all process the experience differently and come to different places in our lives that help us define that moment in a way that it doesn’t truly cripple us, but allows us to incorporate it and embrace it and basically envelop it into who we are and who we are meant to be.
Very true. And it is. It’s amazing. I love that you were talking about video games, because, right? It’s the way to connect. I mean, it’s so interesting that the thing that parents would rag their kids for doing– it’s like, yeah, but the virtual world is also such an amazing place to connect and create more accessibility for all.
But also, just again, that they’re kind of two conversations, but the processing– you’re spot on. We all process at different rates. And I’ve said for a very long time, healing is not chronological.
And while I am nearly 14 years into my injury, I still have the random Tuesdays where it is a swift kick in the you-know-what, and it it just hits me square on. And it’s hard. And it sucks, and there’s something that maybe triggers it. Or there’s maybe nothing that triggers it.
And it’s just I’m frustrated with how the day is going. And I can’t seem to catch up. And I feel like I’m spinning out. And each thing that’s leading me to spin out is something that takes a little longer because that’s how I do life now. And I know how easy it used to be. And that’s going to happen. And it’s going to be frustrating. It’s going to be challenging.
But I think what I’ve come to find and what’s been so just liberating for me, not just in my disability, but in all facets of life, is understanding that we can simultaneously be two different things. I can be frustrated and having a hard day and still find joy in something. One is not all-consuming.
And so I think that has been a big thing in my own journey of realizing, yeah, there’s days that I can feel beaten down by my paralysis, because I’m human, and it’s going to happen some days. But I can also feel empowered by it at the same time. And one doesn’t mean the other doesn’t exist. That goes for anything in life. I mean, shoot, just this year with COVID, how many times have we all struggled mentally and emotionally from feeling like we’re isolated from our communities and–
Or the loss of people who we didn’t expect to succumb to the disease.
And not being able to say goodbye to them– all these things. Yeah, I’m 16 years into my new way of seeing. And as much as I talk about how lucky I am and how blessed I am and how fortunate I feel to see the way I do see, there are days– Jon can tell you.
Sometimes days just suck, you know? And it could be something as simple as he forgot to take his shoes away from the path that I was walking in. For me, I would love to have a wheelchair for no other reason to run over all the things he leaves on the floor and say, ha, ha, it’s broken now. Put it away.
But there are days– and I think– and I don’t know whether this is something we do consciously. But I’m always afraid that we’re going to make ourselves– there was a– Professor Rose at Harvard had done a study on the “supercrip”– people who we consider superheroes because they can walk upright and do things, whatever, but happen to have a disability. And I’m always afraid that I make other people think it’s easy to be blind, when it isn’t. But I just happen to manage it differently.
And you were talking before about– I’m going to use the word ambassador– sharing your grace with others. There are many times I’ve heard blind people freak out because somebody said, hey, can I help you across the street? And they’ve lived on that block, and they’ve always crossed that street.
And instead of taking that moment, which I always do, and saying, sure, I’ll join you across– walking across 5th Avenue. I happen to be living around the corner. I know this block very well– blah, blah, blah. But I don’t want the person who really needs that help to not get it because I snap somebody’s head off their shoulders because I took insult at them asking if I need help versus extending some grace to thank them, have a dialogue, and maybe, in that moment, educate them and open their mind to ability versus the sympathetic, oh, the poor disabled person needs help.
Yeah, and you’re spot-on with that of– living with a disability sometimes, when we’ve, quote, unquote, “mastered it,” if you will, and just adapted and done our thing, you’re right. You don’t want to give off this false illusion that it’s just so easy because there are challenges. There’s very profound challenges that can be barriers if you don’t find a way to adapt to them and work around them.
Your example of crossing the street is similar to somebody asking if they can get the door, or if they can give me a boost up what looks like an extremely steep hill, or whatever it might be. And if I don’t need that, that’s great. But me giving grace hopefully creates that as a positive interaction so that they’re not afraid to offer to the next person because there are people that do need that assistance.
There are people that maybe don’t have the strength to wheel up that hill that could really use that kind stranger who’s doing it, just like they would help grab somebody’s bag if they dropped their belongings all over the ground, right? It’s just–
Wonderful way of looking at it.
Yeah, it goes back to empathy and compassion.
You don’t need to be an angry elf all the time.
No, not all the time. I honestly think I need to learn to have just maybe a little more edge because I’m maybe a little too graceful all the time. It takes more energy sometimes, and it’s almost out of self-preservation to just smile instead and move on and not create a thing out of it.
Yeah. Otherwise, you get caught up in it. And it’s interesting. I always call those teachable moments. I had a few of those when I first lost my eyesight with children seeing me swinging my cane. Hey, mister, you’re going to hit me with that stick. And I would teach the kid what the stick is for. Or I have an elastic band, and I throw it out, and it looks like magic.
But then there was one day where I was walking on 11th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, getting a fantastic chocolate raspberry filled cake– for who, I forget, but I love the cake. And as I’m walking toward this mother-daughter couple, I hear the young girl go, mommy, that man is blind. And I said, hmm, I’m not deaf, but I am blind. How did you know?
And mommy started apologizing and chastising the daughter for actually seeing me. And I’m like, whoa, my teachable moment is for you, mommy. Hey, mom, why are you correcting her? She did see me. Most people don’t. They think I’m walking my dog.
So I’d like to celebrate your daughter for being very observant, one; two, for seeing me and knowing who I am. And it’s funny. I start thinking about, how old are when our parents stop that naivete of seeing people for who they actually are and train us to not see the diversity and difference in front of us and just turn a blind eye to it and create that isolation that we were talking about before that I do live with quite regularly? I feel isolated at times and not able to participate as fully as I would have if I had my sight. But I always wonder, at what age do we get taught to not look at people?
It stems back, I think, to the fear of– we have this fear of saying the wrong thing, of offending people. And so it’s like we stop our children from saying things out loud, because that’s offensive, when really it’s actually not offensive at all. It’s the best thing they should be doing. And it goes with the same idea of like at what age– it’s probably the same age– where we’re also taught what, quote, unquote, “is and isn’t for us.” What age do kids stop being able to be dreamers, and they’re smacked with the– well, you’re not smart enough for that.
You’re not athletic enough for that. That dream’s too big. That goal’s too ambitious. That’s not for people like you. I believe that those two things start– the crossroad is in that similar pivotal moment for our adolescence. And how do we stop that? Because both things kind of go hand in hand a little bit. And they both show– if we can get rid of that, it allows our youth to carry on the idea of possibility in all facets.
And be their authentic selves without quelling that. And I don’t know. And I’ve experienced that. And it goes back to– there was a PSA that Gayle King did on CBS. And it was something like, oh, people with disabilities– how do you start a conversation with the person with a disability? I don’t know. How about, hey, how are you? My name is Gayle. What’s yours?
Instead of, hey, what’s wrong with you?
Yeah, or instead–
That’s generally how the conversation is started.
Oh, yeah. I remember I had a friend of mine, Chris Warren, who had cerebral palsy. And people– hey, what happened to Chris? I’m like, I don’t know what happened to Chris. Like, you know, his feet. What’s wrong with his feet? They’re pointed inside. I’m like, oh, I think he fell off a pair of high heels doing drag one day. Or I think he was a ballerina and broke his ankles.
They’re like, really? I’m like, I don’t know. He’s got cerebral palsy. What the hell you think happened to his feet? It’s so weird. And it’s like, people think like– ask Chris. He’s very capable of telling you what his condition is if you really care to know instead of being quiet behind the scenes.
It’s like we’re not allowed to speak to the person, so we don’t see the person. The dome of silence falls upon them, and we just– they’re just different. What do we do? We look at them through a glass wall.
Cloak of shame–
I know, right? It’s ridiculous.
Yeah. I was sitting in a sauna spa the other day. I treated myself to a spa day.
I was relaxing. I was doing my deep breathing. I was letting myself just zen. It’s been a whirlwind since coming home from Tokyo. And a woman comes into the sauna. She sees my wheelchair sitting next to me. I’d transferred to sit on the bench.
And she goes, well, what’s wrong with you? And I was like, oh, boy. It’s going to be one of those moments. I didn’t really know what to say. And I just– instead of– I really wanted to quiet it down. So I knew if I didn’t address her curiosity, it was going to only cause more curiosity.
And I was like, oh, just– I’m paralyzed 13 years, but nothing is kind of how I did it. Like nothing’s wrong with me, I just happen to use a wheelchair. And she wanted to then tell me how she, too, suffered for five years in a wheelchair, and the fact that she put “suffer” to it.
In my head I was like, I really just want to be in the sauna, sitting in peace and quiet at the beautiful spa I’m at and not do this today. But at the same time, it’s like I also wanted to say to her, I just got home from Tokyo– two golds and a silver. I’m really not suffering at all.
I’m doing my thing. And I’m actually pretty good at the thing I do. So I’m doing well, but thanks for the perspective.
No, it’s funny. And I’m not trying to do this because of the me, too thing. But was it– last night. At 11:30 at night, we get this phone call. And it’s a friend of ours from California. And I’m like, I’m not answering the phone call right now. I don’t feel like talking.
So the next morning, she calls me. And I’m like, OK, what is so important? You called twice. She’s– I was blind for 18 hours. I’m like, what? She’s– I got sunscreen in my eye, and I couldn’t see anything. I was so upset. I couldn’t imagine being blind.
But then I thought of you right away. And I’m like, oh, my god, what you have to endure, what you have to deal with. I am so blessed to be able to see and blah, blah, blah. So I just opened a bottle of wine, and I sat down, and I just cried my– I’m like, you opened up a bottle of wine, but you were blind?
How were you able to do that? I mean, you know? I just know some of the things I was not able to do at the beginning or think about being able to do, let alone under the trauma and fear that I’m going to be permanently blind because sunscreen got in my eye. And I was like, not even close to being the same, girl. Not even close.
Not even close.
I love her to death, but, oh, my god.
–rushing to try to understand.
Mallory, I could keep talking to you until the cows come home. You are such a fantastic personality, a great lady. Your grace is coming through loud and clear over here. One thing I need to know, Mallory, is where in Minnesota do you live?
I live in the Twin Cities. So my husband and I are in the suburbs.
We just visited there in 2019 for Halloween.
Yeah, we went for a concert. And I had never been in Minneapolis before. Let me tell you, it is on my must-go-to-cities, no matter what the heck is going on there with the political unrest over the past couple of years, which is not reflective of your city, in my opinion, as it was for us that long weekend we were there. We had such a great time. So we’ll have to catch up with you and Jeremy there sometime soon.
Yes. Oh, we’d love that. We love the Twin Cities. Minnesota’s home for me. He is a East Coast transplant.
Where is he from?
So he is from Connecticut, and he lived in New York City for a handful of years before I got him to Minnesota. Pretty sure pizza was going to be the end of our relationship when we got pizza for the first time, and he realized we cut it in squares. He was like, hold on, you just brought a New Yorker to Minnesota. You’re telling me this is the best place ever, and you cut your pizza in squares, and I can’t hold it.
If you don’t have good pizza and good bagels, you’ve lost me. I’m sorry.
Things I can’t eat in Minneapolis.
That’s a conversation we could have a whole podcast on, so I’m not going to get into it.
Yeah, pizza. Jon and I were in Amsterdam. And every other place had New York-style pizza. So we spent–
It was like a chain.
Yeah, no, I think each one [INAUDIBLE] they had it. Whether it was a chain, I can’t remember. But we went out, and we tasted every pizza there was. And there was only one that came close. And we tried to tell him he needed more sauce. And the guy was looking at us like we had 14 heads.
Oh, my goodness.
Oh, my god. So in addition to being Paralympian extraordinaire, you are an accomplished author. Can you tell us about your book, Limitless? Help me with the rest of the title, Mr. Hermus.
So Limitless– the Power of Hope and Resilience.
Please, Mallory, where people can get it, what its premise is about, and does it come in audio?
Yes, it does. It does come in audio. That was the must-have on the list and wasn’t even a question with my publisher, which I am so proud to be with them, because there wasn’t even a second question about it. It was like, well, of course we’re doing audio. And they’ll release simultaneously on release day together.
So Limitless is a lot of– really, the premise is my journey. But what inspired me to write Limitless was this understanding that each and every one of us has a story. And when we can create a space to honor our own journey, that is when we realize that, well, we all carry circumstance we are more than, right?
And for me, Limitless was really less about it being this fluff statement, if you will, and more about a way of thinking and understanding that our circumstances are all defining. We have a choice. And really, what defines us is who we choose to be following. And so Limitless really came to life through that. And it weaves my journey in while also pulling out the things that I’ve learned throughout.
One of the most beautiful parts of this journey is I had the wherewithal, when I was newly injured in the hospital, to pick up a journal and start writing just a few days after my injury. And so in the effort of writing Limitless, I went back to those journals, because I was very conscientious about wanting to make sure that the journey reflected what truly happened and not how I perceived it to happen years later. And so what we found when I went through the journals was that I had these themes almost, if you will, that you could see me grappling with on the pages of my journals over periods of time following my injury.
And that’s how I created the chapter structure. And those chapter titles are these lessons and these themes and conversations I was having through those different stages of my journey throughout. And that’s how I put it together. And for me, it really has come down to, yes, have I always wanted to write a book? I have for years.
But I haven’t said, oh, I want to write a book, because it’s on the bucket list. And I just want to check “author” off the list. I wanted to write a book, so I could put my story together in a way that would empower others to honor their own. And frankly, when the reader closes the page, if they don’t know a single thing about me, that’s awesome.
Yes, if you’re inspired and empowered by my story, that’s great. But my main hope is that it empowers you to honor your own journey. And that is where I fundamentally believe we all become limitless, is when we create that space to not just feel as if we must move on from circumstance, but yet instead move through it and move forward with it and take with us all the things we learned along the way.
I love that. The book– I will be reading it post-haste. And I’m sure people will get a sense of how to overcome and process challenges and trauma, which is what, I guess, I heard you say when you said, they don’t know anything about me, that’s great. They need to take the message and take it forward and apply it to their journey and see where the similarities are, so we all know we’re not isolated and alone.
What are some of the projects you’re working on currently? Anything interesting?
What’s on the horizon?
What’s on the horizon? Oh, so many things.
We know we’re going to be having children soon.
Yes. I don’t do well just hanging out. I like to be busy. We just got home from Tokyo. I am going to continue on with my athletic career. So the goal would be to be able to make it through the LA 2028 games. And at that point, I will make a decision of what’s next.
But we are at this point, as long as my body stays with me, committed for the next two Paralympic Games, Paris 2024 and LA in 2028. We are beyond hopeful that prior to Paris here, in three years, we will be bringing a little one into our life and starting a family, God willing. And so that is part of the next journey.
But my husband and I are also co-owners and co-CEOs of a social impact agency and production studio. And we are in production on a documentary that actually is– this one is about my journey. So that’s a very interesting stance– being behind the scenes as an executive producer and writer while also being the quote, unquote, “talent,” if you will.
And then we have our hands in a number of other projects. We do a bunch of branded work, commercial work, other original content. And so we thoroughly love the power of storytelling and predominantly focus in the disability community and utilizing the power of storytelling to change perception and create that new normal, as we’ve spoken about, and bring that conversation forward in a powerful way that can start to change how it is that we see disability in our society.
That’s wonderful. It just, again, reminds me that you and Jonathan have a lot in common. Jonathan is a journalist. He likes to journal. And we were just reading his hunting journal from the time that you were about 13 or 14?
Yeah, my hunting log book.
His hunting log book.
And a lot of craziness in there from sitting alone in the woods.
Yeah, “craziness,” to say the least. And he’s also a great storyteller. Jonathan’s a very proficient writer and is good at telling stories, too. So again, there’s a kindred spiritedness around all of us here. This is fantastic. So, cool. So Paralympics in Paris and then in LA, more productions coming out. Now what’s the name of your company?
That sounds like fantastic stuff, and I can’t wait to meet the little one when they arrive.
Yeah, you know? You never know how that journey goes. It’s like you can’t really plan it, but we are beyond excited. And I’m excited. I’ll be honest, both my husband and I are very excited for some of the conversation that that’s going to spark and that we’re going to be able to have, and me as a female athlete.
And then throw on top of being a female athlete who happens to have a disability. There’s a lot of things we’re going to get to turn upside down in that conversation, and I kind of welcome that. I think it’s fun to have them and do our part to use our journey to change the narrative. And our little one’s going to be tougher than all heck because they’re going to be a product of Jay and I.
[INAUDIBLE] really tough.
A little bit of chaos in life is a good thing. Keeps you on your wheels.
Well, Mallory, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been a true pleasure. We wish you all the continued success, more gold, and I hope you can paint the world gold for everybody that you come in contact with. Thanks for joining us today.
Thank you so much. It was wonderful to join you.
And that was Mallory Weggemann.
That went swimmingly. Now what an inspiration. What a remarkable woman, as she said, full of grace.
And I like the fact that she has a problem sharing it sometimes with people out there who make us scratch our heads, wondering, did you really just ask me that? But wonderful, wonderful woman. And I am looking forward to going to Minnesota to hang out with her and Jay very, very soon.
And we also have another blog coming out. It’s so perfect to be following this interview with Mallory. It’s called, “The Power of CANI– a Constant Focus on Never-Ending Improvement of Self.” Been working a lot with that with Donna Cozzolino on manifesting and bringing to the table the power of the universe, so it conspires in our favor to make us successful people.
And to read our blog, please check it out at myblindspot.org.
Look for that. And please, please, keep washing your hands. Please, do your research on the vaccinations. It is confusing, to say the least. But there are reasons to take a look at what the FDA and the CDC are speaking about these days, as confusing as it can be.
We both have our vaccinations, and we are happy to say that we’ve seen a change in the number of infections. And the people who are really coming close to getting sicker and sicker are those who haven’t jumped into the vaccination pool, as it were. So please, wash your hands. Where you need, wear your masks. And take every precaution because we want you here for a long time.
And don’t forget, you can always reach out to us at our website, myblindspot.org, or on any of the social media platforms that we happen to be on, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.
Download the podcast and listen to it through Spotify, Apple, and wherever you get your podcasts.
And you can also email us directly at email@example.com.
We’d love to hear from you if you have any topics, or if you want to be a participant on the AccessAbility Works podcast, we’d be happy to have you join us. And we keep on keeping on. Next interview will be a– I consider one of the important players in our industry, Debra Ruh.
I can’t wait to have that interview come on. It’s going to be fantastic. So thanks for listening. This is AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities that accessibility means for people with disabilities. I’m Albert Rizzi.
And I’m Jonathan Hermus.
Thanks for listening.
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