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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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