Mallory Weggemann has plenty of experience in dealing with life's sudden, unexpected shifts. That didn't make it any easier for the swimmer from Eagan to handle the curve thrown her way this week, as she prepared to compete in the Paralympics for the first time.
Weggemann, who was paralyzed from the waist down in 2008, was reclassified Monday by the International Paralympic Committee, changing both her event schedule and her competitors just days before the London Paralympics. She was scheduled to compete in nine events in the S7 category, beginning Thursday. The IPC's classification board determined she should be in the S8 category, where she will compete in six events against less-impaired athletes beginning on Saturday.
Justin Zook of Plymouth, the two-time defending Paralympic gold medalist in the 100-meter backstroke (S10), also was among 40 athletes who were reclassified just days before Wednesday's opening ceremony. Thursday afternoon, Weggemann's agent, Jeremy Snyder, said her 15 world records also had been stripped.
The IPC classifies athletes according to the type of disability they have and how it affects their athletic performance. The lower the number, the more severe the impairment. Weggemann has competed at the S7 level since her career began in 2008.
The U.S. Paralympic Committee appealed the reclassifications Wednesday but lost. Snyder called the decision "unfair and unjust," while Weggemann said she will compete to the best of her ability despite losing faith in the system.
"I plan to rise above and not let this defeat me,'' she said in a statement. "I see this as a new opportunity to demonstrate that when life and people knock you down, each and every one of us still has the ability to overcome and rise to the occasion.''
Weggemann, 23, was paralyzed after receiving an epidural injection to treat back pain. She began breaking world records in 2009 and won nine medals -- eight golds and a silver -- at the 2010 IPC world championships.
Snyder said she received a notice from the IPC three weeks ago that her classification had been protested. He said she provided medical records documenting that she is a T10 paraplegic; still, she had to undergo testing by two IPC medical professionals, who determined she should be reclassified.
Another top American swimmer, Victoria Arlen, also had her classification challenged this week but will be allowed to compete in her original category.
Snyder said that after the Paralympics, Weggemann plans to pursue changes to the process. She said she believes it is unfair that she has trained and competed for more than four years in the S7 classification, only to be put through reclassification days before the biggest event of her career. Snyder also contends there was not sufficient evidence to change her classification.
"I feel as though the system has failed me,'' she said. "It is my hope that with this, I can help change the system so there is more protection for athletes like myself. For these next 10 days, I will be racing ... I plan to continue to do what I have done these past four years and push it to the limit, no matter what the classification.''