The Invictus Games Orlando 2016 swimming competition ended this afternoon after a series of remarkable performances, brave swims and a moment of high emotion. A first for the Games was when U.S. competitor Elizabeth Marks returned one of her four gold medals to Prince Harry, asking him to pass the medal on to the British hospital that saved her life on the eve of the inaugural Invictus Games in London.
Elizabeth Marks said she gave the medal back to Prince Harry to give to the Papworth Hospital team in England as a gesture of gratitude for saving her life.
Marks arrived two years ago to compete in Invictus Games London 2014 when she said she became “very ill, very rapidly,” suffering from respiratory distress syndrome which required external lung support. She received care at Papworth Hospital which she says, saved her life.
She agreed that donating one of her medals was the one way she could think to repay the hospital.
“It’s the only thing I could give to thank them for saving my life,” she said. Praising Britain’s National Health Service for the high-quality care she received, she sent a message to the hospital.
“I will never be able to repay you, but what you are doing is wonderful.”
The gesture is believed to be unprecedented among major international sporting events.
“I gave one of my medals to Prince Harry and hope it will find its way back to them,” she said later.
Epitomizing the unique spirit of the Invictus Games, Marks said “I don’t step onto a block or go into a pool without thinking of all my battle buddies from all around the world who suffer every day. I never go into a pool to win a medal, just to do them proud.”
The U.S. medalist said that she wanted to thank Prince Harry for founding the Invictus Games, which she said “means so much to me and many other soldiers…(and) will save many lives.”
With the warm sun shining down brightly through the waters, competitors from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States chased a total of 87 medals in the 50m freestyle, 50m backstroke, 50m breaststroke, 100m freestyle, and mixed 4x50m freestyle relay events.
While UK and U.S. swimmers secured the most medals, the competition was a celebration of all participants as well as those who made it onto the podium.
“Winning can be about a lot more than medals,” said Olympic swimming champion, Ian Thorpe of Australia, who attended today’s finals and presented a silver medal to his countrymen, Craig McGrath, who lost his legs following an Improvised Explosive Device attack in Afghanistan, and will compete for Australia in the Rio Paralympics later this year.
“Winning is being about just doing better, and doing something that you have not done before – that’s when you see the spirit of sport,” added Thorpe.