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January 17th, 2017

Dream of Walking Down the Aisle Now Reality for Paralyzed Athlete

By In the Loop
With the help of her Mayo Clinic care team, paralympian Mallory Weggemann was able to walk down the aisle on her wedding day.

Photo courtesy of Maggie Stolzberg Photography

In 2008, Mallory Weggemann became paralyzed from the waist down following an epidural injection gone wrong. The then 18-year-old competitive swimmer fought her way back into the water, went on to win two medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games, and competed in seven individual events during last year's Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Still, Mallory had yet to accomplish her "ultimate" goal. That, she told us in September, was to walk down the aisle on her wedding day. It, too, would take intense training. In October, she began twice-a-week, 90-minute training sessions with physical therapist Megan Gill at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. They started with "the basics" of getting Mallory "used to being on my feet again." From there, Mallory progressed to the physical act of walking, and then walking while wearing a "petticoat skirt," which, like her wedding dress, would hide the "visual feedback" of her feet.

Mallory Weggemann with her father Chris.

Photo courtesy of Maggie Stolzberg Photography

Finally, training turned into rehearsal. Mallory's parents, sister-slash-maid-of-honor, and husband-to-be, Jeremy, arrived for a "dry run" of that walk down the aisle. Gill put Mallory's shoes onto her long leg braces. Mallory used her arm crutches to stand. Then she and her father began walking down a hallway that mimicked the aisle Mallory would walk down at the wedding.

The groom and father of the bride also practiced helping Mallory up onto the church altar (in this case, a platform). "Now J and I are husband and wife," Mallory jokingly said when they'd successfully practiced the maneuver a few times. Dad playfully added, "And dad is the third wheel!"

A week before the wedding, they took the rehearsal into the chapel. Gill and Lisa Beck, a clinical nurse specialist in Mayo's Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, joined the family at the church for a second dry run of Mallory's walk down the aisle.

On the big day, Gill, Beck and several other members of Mallory's care team were there to make sure everything Mallory had been dreaming of, and working toward, went according to plan. "They helped me get my leg braces on before the ceremony and helped me get dressed," Mallory tells us. "They also made sure I got up to the elevator and up to the sanctuary right before I went down the aisle." Then it was in the hands of her dad, Jeremy and the minister who would officially declare Mallory and Jeremy husband and wife.

Having her care team be part of that "really made things special for me because they've both been such an integral part in all of this from the beginning," Mallory tells us. She says she's especially grateful to Gill for being a constant throughout the ups and downs of her journey, and who she says "really knew how and when" to tap into Mallory's competitive spirit whenever her emotions dipped.

As for the wedding video, Ben Garvin, a photojournalist from KARE-11 News, was there to capture footage of Mallory and Jeremy's big day, as well as the work put in at Mayo Clinic to make it happen. You can see that here. Then give us a proper sendoff by sharing your comments below, and use the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.

Tags: Lisa Beck, Mayo Clinic Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, Megan Gill, Patient Stories, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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