For this disabled athlete, sports are about more than play. It's all about empowerment.
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Mallory Weggemann has been a competitive swimmer since she was 7 years old. But her future as an athlete took an unexpected turn when she was 18.

In 2008, she went to the hospital to receive her third and final epidural injection that was supposed to help with debilitating post-shingles back pain. Instead, 18-year-old Weggemann was left a paraplegic with complete loss of movement from her abdomen down.

Determined to return to swimming, she was back in the pool just three months later. Her older sister found an article in the local newspaper about the Paralympic Swimming Trials at the University of Minnesota.


Through the encouragement of her family, Weggemann attended the trials as a spectator with her sister and met several of the U.S. National Team coaches as well as her former coach, Jim Andersen.

Encouraged to join, Weggemann became a two-time Paralympian, winning medals in both the 2012 and 2016 Paralymic Games.

Gold medallist Mallory Weggemann of the United States poses on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women's 50m Freestyle at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images.

Weggemann now serves as an active voice for athletes of all abilities as a public speaker and board member on disability rights.

And, despite a new medical setback three years ago — the development of a painful nerve condition called complex regional pain syndrome — Weggemann is still training to compete in Tokyo in 2020.

We caught up with her to find out how her perception of ability is changing sports for good.

You’ve said your wheelchair can take you further than your legs ever could. What does that mean?

I look back, and there was a lot of heartbreak and a lot of loss with my injury but also a lot of blessings. I was just 18 years old. In so many ways, the biggest lesson I’ve gotten from this journey is to truly learn what it means to be alive and to live life with purpose. I didn’t really fully grasp that until life drastically changed for me.

I’ve had so many more opportunities since my injury, and I think that’s because of the mindset. And I know that every moment truly is a gift because you never know when life can change.

What role have your coaches played in overcoming your injury?

I've had two significant coaches: one who coached me from when I was injured through the 2012 games, and then one who coached me into Rio and will coach me going into Tokyo. Both of those gentlemen have served as just such fantastic role models in my life.

My first coach was Jim Andersen. He was my first coach right after I became paralyzed and was the one who kind of had that impact on me initially where he never limited my capability. He never told me I couldn't do something.

He was always right next to me being my cheerleader and pushing me to whatever level I wanted. And that really helped me change my own perception of what I was capable of after my injury.

Then as I looked toward the Rio 2016 Games, I had a very significant injury two years before, and I thought I was going to retire and be done. I ended up going back and working with my high school coach who coached me before I was injured and [who coaches me] now.

He was my very first coach when I was a 7-year-old girl. He coached my sisters and I — all three of us — throughout high school. And I stayed in touch with him through the years. My coach from going into London had moved. I'd known Steve my whole life but never in this capacity. I knew every single day he had my back.

Mallory Weggmann competing in the 100 meter breast stroke at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images.

Why does community matter in overcoming adversity?

I've come to realize that the only way I've been able to accomplish what I have is because of the people I'm surrounded by and the importance of having people in your corner, whether that be parents, coaches, community support, teachers, mentors.

With a strong community, you will get through whatever happens in life. That goes for youth athletes, too, but even as a 20-year-old athlete and person, you always need a community. You never get too old or too good for community.

In a sport like swimming — where you're literally by yourself unless you're on a relay — for the most part, you win by yourself. So often, everybody only sees you. They don’t see the tribe of people behind you, your teammates, coaches, trainers, medical team (in my situation), your family, your community.

The only way that I returned to swimming after I was paralyzed was because I had an incredible community before my injury.

How can inclusion at the youth level change more than just sports?

I take enormous pride in being a Paralympic athlete, but how do we find a way to bridge adaptive sports and non-adaptive sports so we're bridging the two communities at the youth level?

Think of a wheelchair basketball camp — maybe you know a young girl or boy wants to bring their friend who doesn't happen to be in a wheelchair or a soccer clinic for kids in the community where it doesn't mean that if you are a kid with a prosthetic, you can't show up and play soccer with your peers.

Weggman smiling after competing in the 100 meter Butterfly at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.  Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images.

I think if we start seeing more inclusion in sports in the field of play and finding ways to introduce it and they’re immersing themselves in each other’s communities, we won't see so much of the divide as they age.

You look at disability rights issues, and I think sports are a catalyst for moving the needle. In the U.S. alone, our unemployment rate in the disability community is astronomical. And that's not because people with disabilities are not capable of doing the job. It's because there's still a stigma against people with disabilities.

And so I think that if we can find a way to use sports as a catalyst to drive greater inclusion on the field of play, we're going to continue to see that transfer into our communities, into our schools, into our churches, into our places of work.

Those kids will soon grow to teenagers who will go to college and will grow into working professionals. And slowly, but surely, as our generation shifts, we will see that change.

This article was first published on GOOD on Nov. 13, 2017.

This story was produced as part of a campaign called "17 Days" with DICK'S Sporting Goods. These stories aim to shine a light on real occurrences of sports bringing people together.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Jennifer Lawrence

After being a Hollywood staple, Jennifer Lawrence vanished from the public eye following the release of "X-Men Dark Phoenix" in 2019.

Sure, the pandemic had something to do with that … in addition to the usual way our society treats Hollywood "it" girls, once it grows accustomed to the flavor. But in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Lawrence opens up about some other reasons she chose to step away for a time.

Lawrence went from being a highly sought-after Oscar-winning actress to starring in less-than-successful films like "Passengers," "Mother!" and "Red Sparrow." The films were not only poorly received among critics, but commercially as well.

"I was not pumping out the quality that I should have," she told VF. "I just think everybody had gotten sick of me. I'd gotten sick of me. It had just gotten to a point where I couldn't do anything right. If I walked a red carpet, it was, 'Why didn't she run?'"

So then, why do it? As any workaholic would know, it's about so much more than money.

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


Most people imagine depression equals “really sad," and unless you've experienced depression yourself, you might not know it goes so much deeper than that. Depression expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might get to work just fine — it's different for everyone.

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Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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