Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks is a combat medic but also a heavily decorated Paralympic swimmer, Pat Tillman ESPY award winner, and a 2017 Army Woman’s Hall of Fame inductee. She credits all of this to her mentors, her brothers and sisters in arms.
Marks’ story, which is apropos during Women’s History Month, gives proof to Chief of Staff of the Army James McConville’s comments that people are the Army’s number one priority.
The armed forces have always influenced Marks’ life. Her father is a Vietnam veteran who worked with Veterans Affairs and as a teenager she attended an at-risk youth academy where she fell in love with the military.
“The staff of Arizona Project Challenge were all National Guard or prior service members,” said Marks. “Going to that academy solidified my need to give back to the military community.”
Marks originally wanted to be an infantryman like her father and most of the staff at her academy, but when she joined the Army in 2008 that was not an option available for women.
“I told the recruiter, ‘OK, what is the closest to that’, and they told me about combat medics,” said Marks. “My father had talked very highly of Naval Corpsmen, (similar to Army medics) so I went for it.”
Marks immediately fell in love with her job, and the fellow Soldiers she served with became her family. Things took a turn when Marks was injured while on assignment in Iraq.
“No one expects to be injured. It is one of those things that no one thinks will happen to them,” said Marks.
Marks was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center for recovery, and it was at this point she discovered her passion for swimming.
“I met Chanda Gaeth at the pool,” said Marks. “She was a veteran and a swimming coach with the adaptive sports program. She was incredibly helpful, and she encouraged me to keep fighting.”
Marks also discovered the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program during her time in the pool. She suddenly had two goals: being declared fit for duty, and becoming a Paralympic swimmer in the Army.
“I had a lot of people tell me it wasn’t possible to come back. The more I heard that the more I wanted to be back. It made me want to show them what I could do,” said Marks. “Gaeth told me to keep going even when they told me there were no other Paralympic swimmers in the Army. She understood what it was like to be underestimated.”
Then the day came: Marks was declared fit for duty and could continue her Army career as a combat medic. Soon after, she received more good news, she was named the Army’s first Paralympic swimmer with the World Class Athlete Program.
“These moments were special for me,” said Marks. “Not only did I get to stay in the Army, but I got to pursue a whole other passion I would not have discovered if I wasn’t injured.”
Being named the Army’s first Paralympic swimmer was not Marks’ only ‘first’. She is also the first active duty Soldier to be awarded an ESPY Pat Tillman Award, the first U.S. Soldier in 2015 to medal at the CSIM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire) Military World Games, and the Army’s first Paralympic swimming gold medalist.
Marks attributes her successes to those who have helped her along the way. This includes the medical professionals who have cared for her, the WCAP staff, her mentors throughout her career, and her fellow servicemen.
“Every time I compete and chase a new goal it is because of the people who helped lift me up when I was down,” said Marks. “They didn’t need to help me but they did and they encouraged me. I feel indebted to them.”
Marks is currently training for the 2020 Summer Paralympic Team Trials for swimming. The Paralympic Games were originally scheduled for August of 2020 but were postponed to August of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This past year has made us get creative with training,” said Marks. “We had to think outside of the box and I had a lot of fun with that. Now I am getting in as much quality training as possible.”
The combat medic’s next big competition to prepare for the trials is the 2021 World Para Swimming World Series in April. It is an important competition for the U.S. Paralympic swimming team selection procedure.
"I am incredibly grateful to my brothers and sisters in the military, veterans, and those who are in the pool with me every single time I race,” said Marks.
Marks is continuously making history in the Army and the Paralympic world and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
Marks’ achievements are as follows: First Paralympic female in the US Army World Class Athlete Program; First Paralympic Swimmer in the US Army World Class Athlete Program; 2016 ESPY Pat Tillman Award Recipient; 2017 Inductee: Army Woman's Hall of Fame; 7x World record holder; 13x American record holder; 1x Paralympic Games record holder; 1x World Championships record holder. International Military world titles: 2013 CISM Racing wheel chair Gold: 100,200,1500m; 2015 CISM Swimming Gold: men’s 100m breaststroke (she was one of two female competitors in this event), bronze: 50m breaststroke and 50m backstroke; 2015 Military World Games gold: female standing shot-put, Bronze: men’s T42 track 100m and 200m; 2016 Invictus Games gold: 100m, 50m freestyle, 50 breaststroke and backstroke. Paralympic titles: 2016 Paralympic Games Rio De Janeiro Gold: 100m SB7 breaststroke (world record), Bronze: women's 4x100 medley relay; 2019 World Championships: World Champion 100m backstroke S7.
To learn more about the Army's World Class Athlete Program, visit www.armywcap.com