ONE of the athletes at the Invictus Games appeared to forge a bond with Prince Harry yesterday – with the royal seemingly mesmerised by the massive tattoo running up her leg.
The 31-year-old Prince presented a gold medal to military medic Sergeant Elizabeth Marks – who won the prize in the swimming finals yesterday morning.
The pair appeared to share a moving moment when the swimming champion gave Harry back her 100m freestyle gold medal to pass on to the British hospital that saved her life when she arrived in the UK to take part in the 2014 Invictus Games.
The Arizona born 25-year-old, who sustained hip injuries in Iraq in 2010, became gravely ill when she collapsed with a serious lung condition and was put into an induced coma, before she was treated at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire.
The royal initially refused but she approached him again and this time he accepted – a touching moment that was captured by the cameras at the games.
Moments later the duo appeared to strike up a bond in the competitors’ tent as she dressed him up in her petite Games uniform jacket – leaving both of them in stitches.
The UK swimming team won a clutch of medals during the fourth day of the games, being staged in Orlando, Florida, but the heartfelt gesture from the American captured the imagination of the crowds.
Marks told the Paralympics’ Team USA website how the day before the team flew out of Washington, D.C. in 2014, she lost her voice but although she wasn’t feeling her best, she didn’t feel terrible and attributed it to doing too many interviews.
However, by the time the plane landed in London, however, she couldn’t breathe and was taken to the Royal London Hospital and admitted for what they believed was pneumonia.
Within 24 hours Elizabeth’s health worsened until she fell unconscious, went into respiratory failure and when her lungs filled with fluid had to be put on life support.
She said: “I landed in London and became very ill very rapidly, I was in hospital in London and went into respiratory distress syndrome, they shipped a team down from Papworth who put me on to ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) life support and that ultimately saved my life.
“And when they did so I was on it for 10 days and ended up waking in an army hospital in Germany having no idea what had happened.
“But they absolutely saved my life and I can’t thank the UK enough for having that kind of medical support and taking such good care of me.
“So I gave Prince Harry one of my medals and hope it will find its way back to Papworth.”
Fighting back the tears, she paid tribute to the NHS, saying: “Thank you, I’ll never be able to repay you, but what you’re doing is wonderful.”
Sgt Marks, who joined the US army at the age of 17, suffered a serious hip injury in 2010 which left her with no sensation in her left leg but she has battled back to fitness and still serves in the military.
Just four months of participating in her first competition she became the first female Paralympic athlete in the US army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).
She won all four swimming events she entered at the Invictus Games for injured military and veterans this time around, but decided to give her 100 metre freestyle gold to the hospital as it had been touched by the Prince, she said.
Sgt Marks, who is married, added: “It’s just an honour to be here and stand next to all the other soldiers, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be.
“I was a little apprehensive, I was nervous because of what had happened last time but I was eager to perform and show my team and show the other countries how much I love their support.
“When I came out of my coma to see all the pictures of them supporting me while I was there, without even knowing I was in that state, made me cry like a baby so it was a chance to give something back.”
The determined sportswoman is now looking forward to representing her country in the Rio Olympics this summer but already she’s winning golds despite feeling disorientated and struggling with her vision when she’s in the water because of lack of oxygen.
She now uses the same tappers as her visually-impaired teammates to let her know when she’s approaching the wall and she also needs to have someone there to help her out of the pool.
In a moving video essay submission to the US veterans contest, the Triumph Games, she said: “I love the Army. More than the Army, I love soldiers.”
She added: “Sharing my story, passion and experience with other injured or ill soldiers is the most precious gift that my life has been given.
“I met a female soldier and got to share my story about overcoming injury and illness, competing against men, about the mental, physical and emotional struggle that sports has helped me through. The impact will last with me forever. She presented me with a letter and a Soldier’s prayer saying; ‘I hated life. I had given up. No one believed in me. And then I met you.’ Because of her words, I will never give up.”
Later that morning the Prince joined the British swimming relay team for a bear hug after they won gold in the finals on day three of the Invictus Games.
The 31-year-old surprised athletes in the competitors’ tent at the swimming pool on the penultimate day of the event in Orlando, Florida, which comes to a close today.
While he was wearing a khaki shirt over his favourite Diesel jeans, the competitors were dripping wet having just emerged from the pool and were still clad in their swimming trunks, leaving the royal rather damp after the enthusiastic embrace.
Harry also congratulated GB Armed Forces Team Captain David Wiseman, who won gold with his relay team, by giving him a pat on back as he left the pool.
David sustained a gunshot wound to the chest in a firefight with the Taliban in 2009 but that didn’t stop the father-of-two, 33, from competing in the swimming finals.
After the group hug in the changing room where Harry gave his congratulations all round, he also took the time to play with a dog that was also in the tent.
The ever-charming Harry then went around to see all of his guests at the Games and shared a joke with former competitor and now commentator JJ Chalmers outside the competitor’s tent.
JJ, 25, sustained horrific injuries when he was blown up by a Taliban bomb during a patrol in Helmand Province losing two fingers and his right elbow disintegrated. Last year he competed in an cycling event but has now taken on commentary for the games.
The Invictus Games, which have brought 400 athletes from 14 different countries to Orlando are now in their final day.
Harry, who founded the games for wounded, injured and sick veterans, now in its second running after the London Invictus Games in 2014, then posed for photos with the winners.
Harry has said he hopes to bring Invictus to the UK in 2019, completing a five-venue cycle which would see the games return home after being staged in Canada next year and Australia in 2018.
Yesterday the Prince charmed attendees at games by posing with babies, offering kind words of encouragement, and even planting kisses on a lucky few.
The royal kissed on road cyclist Katie Kuiper, who served in the Army as an intelligence analyst and suffered a gunshot wound to the head in 2013.
The prince’s involvement was not lost on American gold medalist Jennifer Schuble, who told People Magazine: “Normally you get gorgeous female models giving out medals at traditional cycling events.
“To have Prince Harry was absolutely unbelievable – ten times better for a woman than getting a model!”
The Prince said he understood the true cost of war and credited his service in Afghanistan with inspiring him to start the games in order to help his “military family”.
He said: “When I joined the Army I just wanted to be one of the guys. What I learned through serving were the extreme privileges of being a prince and the opportunity I have to help my military family.
“I learned about the importance of teamwork and camaraderie in a way that only military service can teach you.
“And when I traveled back from the battlefield on a plane carrying the body of a Danish soldier and three young Brits fighting for their lives, I began to understand the true cost of war.”
The Prince also raised awareness of “invisible injuries” such as post-traumatic stress and depression – which are often suffered by soldiers after returning from war.
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