Melissa Stockwell can't wait to be a part of 2021's biggest sporting event — and knows it means more, perhaps, than ever before.
The two-time Paralympic triathlete — who took home the bronze at 2016's Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro — chats with PEOPLE about her partnership with Procter & Gamble on the company's Lead with Love campaign, saying her primary goal at this year's Games in Tokyo is just to take in how symbolic being together will be amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and postponement of the event.
"The biggest goal is to be in Tokyo, to be on a podium, to represent the U.S.A. with that uniform on," says Stockwell, 41. "And I think even through the pandemic that Tokyo is going to be such a celebration of sport not just for the U.S. but for the entire world — it's going to bring the world together."
"I think to be in Tokyo will feel along the lines of the P&G campaign: You lead with love," she continues. "You're just so thankful to be there and just embracing that with your teammates and competitors and just being out there together and celebrating the sport."
"What I'm most looking forward to is being part of that team and part of showing the world that we can make it through," Stockwell adds.
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Procter & Gamble Melissa Stockwell
Procter & Gamble Melissa Stockwell
As for how she will prepare for the competition (aside from training, of course), the athlete and former military member, who lost one of her legs as a result of a Baghdad roadside bomb in 2004, says her "pre-competition rituals have kind of progressed" as she has "gotten older."
"I bring a little mini dinosaur that my son gave me along to races for good luck," says Stockwell, who's mom to daughter Millie, 3, and son Dallas, 6. "I'm just thinking about the training, realizing I put in the time and believing in myself and just getting out there on race day and saying, 'All right, here we go.' And just having no doubts and going for it."
As for how she hopes to inspire other athletes "who have disabilities like [she does]," Stockwell tells PEOPLE she wants to send a message "that you can overcome obstacles," no matter what those look like.
"Maybe there's a young girl who's missing her leg like me and her family is wondering what she'll be able to do in her life and accomplish and they're like, 'Look at Melissa. She's missing her leg like you are, and here she is swimming, biking, running and competing on the world's biggest athletic stage,' " she says. "Maybe it gives her that confidence and hope to get out there and try riding a bike or dream bigger than she ever thought she could."
Stockwell adds, "So if I can inspire someone else to get out there and do what they never thought possible, then that's just the cherry on top."
Procter & Gamble procter & Gamble's Love Leads to Good short film
The Lead with Love campaign includes a heartwarming short film titled Love Leads to Good, which showcases "the impact parents have in those quiet moments of teaching over a lifetime that develop a child into a champion — as an athlete — and as a good human being," according to a release from P&G.
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"You want to make the world more equitable, more inclusive, and that film just really speaks to me," Stockwell says, adding that she is "proud" to work with P&G on the campaign. "As a parent, you want to raise your kids to be strong, kind, compassionate people. And the film … it's almost like it does it for you visually."
Stockwell's nonprofit organization Dare2Tri was also awarded a $10,000 grant via P&G's Athletes for Good Fund, which she says will go toward providing equipment, race fees, travel fees and more for "athletes that have some sort of barrier to get to that starting line."
"I mean, it changes lives forever," she says of triathlon. "So every aspect of it, we'll make sure to [give support to] as many athletes as we can."
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