MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. – Medically retired Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sarah Rudder earned gold medals in the women’s 50-meter freestyle and 100-freestyle and a silver medal in the women’s 50-meter backstroke in classification 4.5 in swimming competition at Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Virginia, June 27 as part of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games.
She also earned a bronze medal last night in volleyball.
Rudder earned her first gold medal in the women’s 100-meter run in track, and followed it up with silver medals in the women’s shot put and discus, classification 3.5 in field events June 23, and she will compete in the women’s 200-meter run today.
Winning her first gold medal felt amazing, Rudder said, especially because she was pushing through an injury and was having trouble with her amputated leg. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to complete the race, but I just stuck with it and I got the gold medal,” she said. “It was a relief crossing the finish line.”
Her father, Kenny DuFresne, and stepmother, Lorraine, weren’t able to see her compete earlier in the week, but they watched her earn her bronze medal in volleyball last night and will see her compete today. “I’m proud of her doing this and going through what she’s going through,” DuFresne said. “It keeps her active. It’s awesome.”
“I’m very proud of her,” his wife added. “She’s made so much progress in a year. It’s so fantastic that she medaled her first time out. She’s always been a winner, but this just proves that she is one.”
Rudder first injured her ankle when she went through the Crucible in boot camp and was on the path of healing when she re-injured it on 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 nonsurvivors, 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 pieces of bone tearing up the cartilage in her ankle, so doctors took cartilage from her knee and placed in her ankle. She had metal rods put in, taken out, and so on until the decision to remove her limb and give her a prosthetic leg.
Rudder ran track in high school and said training for the Warrior Games helps her feel like an athlete again, though since she is still a new amputee, she is still adapting to her prosthetic.
“I feel like I can challenge myself again and be an athlete, but it’s been a challenge to run on it,” she said. “I’ve been having issues with it being sore and fitting my socket correctly.”
She said she never stayed in that dark place of recovery. “There’s always a time where you feel like you’re not going to be whole again because you’re missing a piece, but once I got my prosthetic and I was able to go up and on it, I started teaching myself how to adapt,” Rudder said.
Rudder said she has enjoyed her first Warrior Games because of the camaraderie and the chance to compete against people with similar challenges
“Being around Marines again and being able to compete against other branches lets me feel a sense of normalcy,” she said.
“Being around other people who have the same injuries allows us to know that it’s OK to hurt, it’s OK to not win every race, but to just go ahead and push yourself and try your hardest,” she added. “And because you’re competing against people on the same level as you that have gone through the same type of surgeries and disabilities as you, there’s nothing holding them back, and it shouldn’t hold you back, either.”
She said she doesn’t want people without injuries to discount wounded warriors. “We’re still human, and we’re pushing ourselves against other people who have the same injuries, because we are making ourselves feel whole and normal again, and being on that level of playing field, it’s allowed us to be strong,” she said.