Iraq War veteran wins fifth Paralympic medal, first gold in Tokyo

Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks in the Women's 50-meter butterfly finals at the 2021 U.S....
Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks in the Women's 50-meter butterfly finals at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials on June 17, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minn. Marks, a Solider-athlete in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, broke two American records at the Paralympic Swimming Trials while qualifying for the Summer Games.(U.S. Army Installation Management)
Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 5:55 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 6, 2021 at 6:46 AM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks is already a legend among military athletes. The swimmer has become friends with Prince Harry, and has earned titles at numerous adaptive sporting events- the Invictus Games and Military World Games. After the challenges she’s faced in Iraq and later at Papworth Hospital in Great Britain, winning Paralympic gold (also in world record fashion) is not nearly as difficult.

During the finals of Friday’s Women’s 100m Backstroke- S6 at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, Sgt. Marks took a commanding lead right off the starting block, which she kept for the entire race. Even as she reached the halfway point as the only swimmer in need of visual assistance, the Queen Creek, Ariz. native was well on her way to victory- with a world record time of 1:19.57. (Note: Paralympic swimmers compete against others with similar degrees of impairments). With this win, she now has a medal for every stroke contested on the international stage.

Friday’s gold was the Marks third medal earned this summer and fifth in her career. Last Wednesday, Marks opened the Games with silver in the 50m Freestyle S6. Days later, the Army veteran took bronze in the 50m Butterfly.

At 17, Marks joined the U.S Army in 2008, and would go on to serve as a health care specialist. In 2010, she suffered bilateral hip injuries and would need several surgeries as a result. She would soon turn to swimming as a form of therapy. Sgt. Marks became a part of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program and continued to serve as a combat medic.

One of her greatest challenges came in 2014, when she contracted a severe respiratory infection in preparations for the 2014 Invictus Games in London. She was subsequently placed on life support, and the infection caused visual and pulmonary complications, which still exist today. Even as Marks, known to others as “Ellie” slowly recovered, she suffered chronic pain in her competitions, including the Rio 2016 Paralympics where she established herself as an elite swimmer by winning gold in the 100m Breaststroke SB7, along with a bronze in the 4 x 100m Medley Relay.

In 2017, she elected to have her left leg amputated, a decision she credits as one that saved her life. Since then, she went onto claim gold at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London, in the 100m backstroke S6- the same stroke that landed her gold on Friday.

The swimming portion of the Tokyo Paralympics has officially concluded. The Summer Games, which end Sunday with the closing ceremony, can be accessed on NBC’s various platforms. Weekend specials will air on KCBD-TV, starting 7 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday.

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