Feature   Know Your Military

Face of Defense: Swimming Toward Gold

July 28, 2021 | BY Brittany Nelson , Army Installation Management Command

Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks is a combat medic and also a decorated Paralympic swimmer in the U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program — a Pat Tillman ESPY award winner and a member of the Army Women's Hall of Fame.

She joined the Army in 2008 and was injured in 2010. While recovering and working to be declared fit for duty, she discovered her passion and talent for swimming.

Recently, Marks broke two American records at the Paralympic Swimming Trials while qualifying for the Summer Paralympic Games. She credits all of this to her mentors — her brothers and sisters in arms.

A soldier poses for a photo while having an American flag draped over her.
Record Breaker
Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks poses with an American Flag. Marks broke two American records at the Paralympic Swimming Trials June 17-21 while qualifying for the Summer Games.
Photo By: Army Maj. Nathaniel Garcia
VIRIN: 210611-A-NG169-737

Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks
Job Title: Combat Medic
Hometown: Prescott Valley, Arizona
Stationed: Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston
Unit: U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program

Where are you from?

My hometown is Prescott Valley, Arizona, where I attended an at-risk youth academy, Arizona Project Challenge. That program really saved my life, going there gave me a safe place to be, three warm meals and the opportunity for a college education.

Why did you want to join the Army?

The military has always influenced my life. My dad is a Vietnam veteran who worked at the Veterans Affairs hospital on the custodial staff. The staff of Arizona Project Challenge were all National Guard or prior service members. Going to that academy solidified my need to give back to the military community.

A soldier poses for a photo.
Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Mark
Army 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 is a Soldier-athlete in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
Photo By: Army Maj. Nathaniel Garcia
VIRIN: 210317-A-BN269-1003

Why did you want to be a combat medic?

I originally wanted to be an infantryman like my father and most of the staff at Arizona Project Challenge, but when I joined the Army in 2008 that was not an option available for women.

I told the recruiter, 'Okay, what is the closest job to that?' And they told me about combat medics. My father had talked very highly of Navy corpsmen, (similar to Army medics) so I went for it.

Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks pets Bugsy, a military working dog, while U.S. wheelchair basketball team members celebrate their gold medal win at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 12, 2016. DoD photo by Roger Wollenberg
Petting Bugsy
Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks pets Bugsy, a military working dog, while U.S. wheelchair basketball team members celebrate their gold medal win at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 12, 2016. DoD photo by Roger Wollenberg
Photo By: Roger Wollenberg
VIRIN: 160512-D-BB251-013

I absolutely loved being a medic. The people in the military became my family. 

When did you start competing in the pool?

After I was injured in Iraq, I was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center for recovery.

I met Chanda Gaeth at the pool while I was recovering and working towards being declared fit for duty. She was a veteran and a swimming coach with the adaptive sports program. She was incredibly helpful, and she encouraged me to keep fighting.

A soldier swims in a pool.
Colorado Competition
Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks prepares to exit the pool at the 2016 Jimi Flowers Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Photo By: Army Maj Nathaniel Garcia, U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program
VIRIN: 210406-D-ZZ999-003

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.

Why was it so important for you to be declared fit for duty instead of getting out of the Army?

I had a lot of people tell me that 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. I had a mentor who helped me understand there was a fight to be fought. All I knew is I wanted to be found fit for duty. 

The support that I received from my brothers and sisters in the military is what got me through my injuries and recovery.

Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks enters the water in the breaststroke finals at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 11, 2016. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
Diving Form
Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks enters the water in the breaststroke finals at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 11, 2016. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
Photo By: Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
VIRIN: 160511-F-WU507-003A

What is one of your favorite memories while you have served in the Army?

There are a lot but two of my favorites were being found fit for duty and then being welcomed into the World Class Athlete Program as the first para swimmer. Those were special days for me because not only did I get to stay in the Army, but I got to pursue a whole other passion I wouldn't have known if I wasn't injured.  

Prince Harry presents a gold medal to U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 11, 2016. Marks won the gold medal with a time of 42:67 seconds. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie
Medal Presentation
Prince Harry presents a gold medal to U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 11, 2016. Marks won the gold medal with a time of 42:67 seconds. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie
VIRIN: 160511-F-QZ836-1869
Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks competes in the 100-meter freestyle event at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 11, 2016. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua L. DeMotts
Freestyle Stroke
Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks competes in the 100-meter freestyle event at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., May 11, 2016. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua L. DeMotts
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Joshua L. DeMotts
VIRIN: 160511-F-FH950-2119

You are the Army's first Paralympic swimmer, what are some of your other firsts?

I am the first active duty soldier to be awarded an ESPY Pat Tillman Award, the first U.S. soldier in 2015 to medal at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or  CISM, Military World Games and the Army's first Paralympic swimming gold medalist.

A soldier swims in a pool.
Final Finish
Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks sprints for the finish line in the women's SB7 100m Breaststroke.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 210406-D-ZZ999-002

Every time I compete and chase a new goal it is because of the people who helped lift me up when I was down. They didn't need to help me but they did and they encouraged me. I feel indebted to them. 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.

How has training for the Paralympics been during the COVID-19 pandemic?

This past year has made us get creative with training. 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.

A soldier swims in a pool.
Marks in Competition
Army 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 is a Soldier-athlete in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 210317-A-BN269-1002C

How did you feel beating two American records at the Paralympic Swimming Trials?

It doesn't feel real yet, I am just really excited to swim.

A soldier swims in a pool.
Swim Trails
Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks in the Women's 50-meter butterfly finals at the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Trials in Minneapolis, Minn., June 17, 2021. 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.
Photo By: Courtesy of Team USA/Getty Images
VIRIN: 210625-A-AA169-669C

What will it mean for you to represent the Army and WCAP at the Paralympic games again?

I have a great deal of love and respect for WCAP and the Army. I love being able to swim with my brothers and sisters. Veterans are a huge reason why I love competing. 

What do you hope your future in the Army looks like? 

I hope that I can help as many Soldiers as possible and have positive influences on their lives. As long as I am continuing to effect change and improve quality of life for Soldiers, then I consider that a success.

A soldier holds out two medals.
Marks Medals
Army Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks poses with her 2016 Paralympic Games Gold (100m breaststroke) and Bronze (4x100m medley relay) medals.
Photo By: Arm Maj. Nathaniel Garcia
VIRIN: 210406-D-ZZ999-202