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Paralympian Elizabeth Marks headed to second Games, far exceeding initial goal to be just 'fit for duty'

Written by on July 17, 2021

Elizabeth Marks just wanted to prove she was fit for duty

Hailing from Arizona, Sgt. 1st Class Marks, 30, didn’t take up swimming until 2012 after she suffered a bilateral hip injury during a tour in Iraq. She started swimming as a way to get back in shape and qualify for active duty again when a friend suggested she compete in the Warrior Games, a sport event for wounded, injured or ill service members and veterans. 

“I was just trying to be found fit for duty, and I couldn’t run, so I took up swimming as a second form of cardio, and there was a gentleman there who encouraged me to try out for Warrior Games,” Marks told Fox News.  

Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks, a Solider-athlete in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, broke two American records at the Paralympic Swimming Trials June 17-21 while qualifying for the Summer Games. Photo by Maj. Nathaniel Garcia

Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks, a Solider-athlete in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, broke two American records at the Paralympic Swimming Trials June 17-21 while qualifying for the Summer Games. Photo by Maj. Nathaniel Garcia

Joining the Army at 17 was the “most strictly athletic thing” Marks had done before taking up competitive swimming. 

That was the first, but not the last, hurdle Marks would face on her path to achieve fitness. 

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Following her hip injury, Marks slipped into a coma in 2014 during the Invictus Games in London and went on an Ecmo machine for brief time, and she needed a leg amputation subsequent to her injuries in 2017. 

After each setback, she bounced back and returned to competition, continuing to push herself to reach new heights. 

“I have a bit of a complicated medical history,” Marks said, but she also claims to have “the world’s best support system.” 

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“The World Class Athlete program and my brothers and sisters in the military – they give me so much motivation and so much life that they make it easy to want to achieve,” she added. She also credits her husband, Mason Heibel, as “the team behind the team.” 

During that time, she still made her Paralympic debut in Rio in 2016, despite suffering chronic pain. Marks is the first female soldier-athlete to compete in the Paralympic Games. 

Since her amputation, she returned to training and even managed to recently break a couple of American records during June 17-21 trials for the Paralympics, in which she swam a 1:21.56 in the 100-meter backstroke and a 37.08 in the 50-meter butterfly.

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She’s not paying attention to the records. 

“I’m just trying to swim and be present in the water,” Marks said. “I don’t look up world rankings or records.” 

This year’s Olympics will be Marks’ first trip to Japan, and she is looking forward to meeting the people there. 

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“My favorite part [of Rio] were the people who volunteered to work the event, so just getting to know the people who are kind enough to donate their time to us … I’m really looking forward to seeing that in Japan, as well.” 

Marks was deemed fit for duty on July 3, 2012.  

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