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On Jan. 21, 2008, 18-year-old Mallory Weggemann was paralyzed from the waist down following a routine medical procedure, her third and final epidural injection for back pain caused by postherpetic neuralgia. The next thirteen years brought challenges, frustrations, successes and triumphs as she became a Paralympic gold and bronze medalist, 15-time world champion swimmer and author.  

“After my injury I just wanted to go back to January 20, 2008, the day before I was paralyzed,” Weggemann said. “You can’t go back in time. It’s not the direction we’re meant to go in. While becoming paralyzed was traumatic, and there was a lot of grief and loss that came with that, I have grown into the person I am because of that experience.” 

Weggemann joined Delta CEO Ed Bastian on Monday for a virtual employee Town Hall, where they talked about what it means to be resilient and overcome challenges. This past year was difficult for the airline, its people and communities around the world — but Weggemann shared a message she learned from her experiences: “It is not the moment, it is not the circumstances, it is who we choose to be and how we respond that ultimately defines who we are and what we are capable of.” 

After becoming paralyzed, Weggemann was introduced to the Paralympics when her sister took her to the Paralympic trials at the University of Minnesota. From that day forward, Weggemann had her sights set on competing.  

She had her triumphs, including breaking world records and earning Paralympic gold,and she faced difficulties,such as a near career-ending injury to her arm and not medaling in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic games. 

“What I learned from not making the podium in Rio was not a failure by any stretch of the imagination,” Weggemann said. “Putting myself out there and seeing what I could do, I can never be mad about that, I don’t think any of us can. We all fall short, it’s inevitable. If we aren’t falling short, we aren’t setting good enough goals.” 

Through the challenges and successes, Weggemann said she has two types of mindsets: an “I do it” mindset she’s had since childhood and a “We do it” mindset that she developed early on in her paralysis. Both are important—one needs to have independence but also needs to know when to ask for help.  

Bastian agreed, saying that when the company faced its most challenging moments in history this past year, he relied on his team to carry the business through.  

“This is not me, this is us. It’s the 75,000 that I always think about, the strength collectively of our organization and our team that propels me to do what I have to do,” Bastian said. “The ‘We’ part is so important. When we come to the realization that is not about us, it’s about each one of us, that’s when the magic happens.” 

Watch the full Town Hall video.