World-class paraswimmer and four-time Invictus Games gold medalist to accept award during show, July 13, on ABC
Ever since she was a young girl, Sgt. Elizabeth Marks has idolized her father, a Vietnam War veteran whose valor and service inspired her to enlist in the U.S. Army when she was 17 years old. But when Marks suffered a debilitating injury to both of her hips while deployed as a combat medic in Iraq, her dream to serve her country was threatened.
She endured several grueling surgeries, and made a promise to herself that she would regain her strength and return to duty. Now a world-class paraswimmer currently ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke, Marks won four gold medals at this year's Invictus Games.
For her courage in the face of adversity, and her unwavering commitment to her country, Sgt. Elizabeth Marks will be honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service at The 2016 ESPYS Presented by Capital One, July 13 on ABC.
During rigorous rehabilitation for her hip injury, Marks discovered a passion for swimming, an activity that allowed her to utilize her arm and core strength, rather than her legs, which remain injured from the incident. Swimming gave Marks a renewed purpose and allowed her to build strength - both physically and mentally.
With training and dedication she excelled, eventually gaining acceptance to the World Class Athlete Program, a group of elite athletes on active duty. She also fulfilled her promise to herself, and was declared fit for duty, allowing her to continue to serve her country.
Marks overcame great odds again in 2014. While traveling to London for the Invictus Games, Prince Harry's international sporting competition for para-athletes, she became gravely ill with a respiratory infection. She was hospitalized upon arrival and doctors at the Papworth Hospital put her on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation life support, an external lung machine that ultimately saved her life. Following the near-death experience, Marks began the long road to recovery all over again.
Despite the many obstacles that have been placed in her way, including the lingering effects of the still undiagnosed lung condition - which cause a loss of sensation in her limbs, reduced lung capacity and impaired vision while swimming - Marks has continued to excel. Now 25 years old, she is a world-class paraswimmer, currently ranked No. 1 in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke. She recently competed at the second Invictus Games in Orlando, where she won four gold medals. As a symbolic gesture, she returned one of her medals to Prince Harry, and asked that he deliver it to the doctors and nurses at Papworth Hospital, as a way to thank them for saving her life - a request the prince recently fulfilled.
Marks is also a member of the 2016 U.S. Paralympics Swimming National Team and is training for the 2016 Paralympic Games taking place in Rio de Janeiro in September.
"The Pat Tillman Award for Service honors those individuals who inspire us with their service and selflessness," said Connor Schell, senior vice president, ESPN Films and Original Entertainment, who oversees The ESPYS. "Sgt. Elizabeth Marks - this year's recipient - is an athlete of remarkable courage and perseverance who has made extraordinary sacrifices in her own life to help others and serve our country. She represents the best of our country and we are proud to present her with this award."
The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to commemorate the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger's legacy, and honor an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of Tillman.
Marks will be presented with the award at The 2016 ESPYS in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation, a national leader in providing academic support and scholarships to veterans, active-duty service members and their spouses. Past honorees include U.S. Paralympic gold medal sled hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney (2014), and former Notre Dame basketball player, Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (2015).
"Pat lived his life with passion, intensity and a commitment to help others live up to their potential," said Marie Tillman, president and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. "As a combat medic and now world-class paraswimmer, Sgt. Marks embodies the same strong sense of duty - challenging herself, fellow soldiers and her teammates, physically and mentally, to push limits and achieve their best in spite of injury or other setbacks. In Pat's name, we're proud to present the Tillman Award to Sgt. Marks for her service, leadership and incredible poise as she represents Team USA."
The 2016 ESPYS, hosted by WWE Superstar John Cena, will air live Wednesday, July 13 (8-11 p.m. EDT), from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Tickets are available for public purchase at AXS.com. For additional ESPYS news and information, follow the official Twitter handle: @ESPYS.