TORONTO, Sept. 26, 2017 — Medically retired Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sarah Rudder broke another personal record and took home gold medals in the women’s 100-meter and 200-meter dashes during track and field competition at the 2017 Invictus Games here Sept. 24.
“It’s been exhausting and nonstop, from six in the morning to 10 at night, but it’s exhilarating. It’s something we need in order to heal. For me, all I wanted to do is accomplish a personal record, whether that got me a gold [medal] or not today. I did it, and I got both so I’m excited,” Rudder said at the York-Lions Stadium here.
More than 550 wounded, ill and injured service members from 17 nations are competing in 12 sporting events, including archery, track and field, cycling, golf, sitting volleyball, swimming, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball here Sept. 23-30 as they are cheered on by thousands of family members, friends and spectators in the Distillery District here.
Since the Quantico competition, Rudder has lost 70 pounds and continues having challenges with finding a prosthetic device with a socket that fits because she keeps training to improve her way of life, she said.
“I’ve been challenging myself more than ever,” she said. “I’m down 25 pounds, changed my diet, changed my way of life and being here, proving that changing things for a positive way in life, it helps tremendously. Being involved in sports and part of a team of vets again, it makes you feel like you’re home again. To have that piece, I will do it every second I can.”
Rudder served as an ambassador at the DoD Warrior Games in Chicago earlier this year, helping the new athletes. “As an ambassador, it was an honor because I was able to see the first steps of new athletes coming in and to look at them, knowing that they’re making a change in their lives just the way I did, I couldn’t be more proud of them,” she said.
Rudder first injured her ankle when she went through the Crucible in boot camp and was recovering when she reinjured it Sept. 11, 2001. She was serving at the Pentagon.
“I was put on a working party for search and rescue, and when I was pulling non-survivors, I hurt my ankle again,” she said. “I was running on adrenaline and didn’t feel anything at the time because I wanted to do as much as I could at the time.”
She underwent five surgeries and had cartilage taken from her knee and placed in her ankle. She had metal rods put in, taken out and they made the decision to remove her limb and give her a prosthetic.
Rudder’s husband, who is also her caregiver, as well as her son and parents are watching her compete this week at the Invictus Games.
“My husband is my caregiver, so he’s with me 100 percent, my son too,” she said. “My parents flew in from England, and it’s the first time they’ve seen me compete [at Invictus. They’re going to see] how are I’ve really pushed myself for the last few years and how far I’ve come.”
When Rudder had earned her first gold medal in track and field, her father, Kenny DuFresne, and stepmother, Lorraine, had missed it but were on hand to witness her earn the bronze medal in volleyball at Quantico.
“I’m proud of her doing this and going through what she’s going through,” Kenny DuFresne said. “It keeps her active; it’s awesome.”
“I’m very proud of her,” Lorraine DuFresne added. “She’s made so much progress. It’s so fantastic she medaled her first time out. She’s always been a winner, but this just proved that she is one.”
Rudder said Team U.S. and the camaraderie among the athletes from other countries is like family as well. “We’re brothers and sisters all the way to the end,” she said. “We fight together. We died together. We’re going to survive together.”
Rudder said all wounded, ill and injured service members should consider adaptive sports. “It’s healing. Anytime you can get healing — do it. Don’t feel sorry for yourself,” she said. “There are people out here worse than you. That was my problem. I felt sorry for myself. When I came out here, and I saw the other athletes, I thought, ‘I have a paper cut compared to what they have.’ And for me to come out here and show that I could do it too, it gave me confidence back into myself.
“There are adaptive sports, whether you have invisible or physical wounds, we’re here for you,” she added. “No matter what [service] branch, no matter how you hide your injury, you’re still a brother and sister and you should be out there fighting with us.”
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)