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Best Moments in Life
Christopher Di Virgilio

One Wyoming women captures the spirit of living life with a disability and lands this year's Get Out, Enjoy Life top spot

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Emotional Experiences

Reprinted from SNS November 2017

In Toronto for the first time, the 2017 Invictus Games provided athletes with uplifting, rewarding and awe-inspiring moments

What Team USA member and active duty Army nurse Kelly Elmlinger will remember about the 2017 Invictus Games won’t be her six gold medals. Nor will it be the opportunity to achieve personal-best times or even participating in the Games’ Toronto debut. 

Instead, it’s the stories from other athletes — and what it took for them to get there — to remind her of the power and the meaning behind adaptive sports. 

“It’s just one of those things where you think you can’t be motivated, inspired and humbled a little more, you know, there’s always something that touches you and does. That’s why I enjoy coming here,” says the 38-year-old Elmlinger. “And I love competing, but the main reason is not for competing and competition and medals, it’s about coming and being around people that make you feel normal, that embrace your injuries, quirks, physical limitations and for what, you know, 10 or 12 days, you know, you really feel like normal.”

Started in 2014 by Prince Harry, the Invictus Games are an international sporting event for wounded, ill and injured servicemen and women, active duty and veteran alike, that help showcase their spirit, drive, perseverance and the power of sport on their journey to recovery.

From Sept. 23–30, more than 550 athletes from 17 countries competed in 12 sports, including archery, track and field, cycling, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, indoor rowing, a Jaguar Land Rover driving challenge, wheelchair tennis, swimming, powerlifting, sitting volleyball and the newest addition, golf. 

And there were plenty of surprises, emotions and obstacles that were overcome. 

“I told you to be ready to see lives change in front of your eyes. But I didn’t tell you that some of those lives would be your own,” Prince Harry said in the closing ceremonies at the Air Canada Centre. “I told you that anything is possible if you have the will … I told you you would be inspired. But I didn’t say these Games might leave you questioning if you are living up to your own true potential.”

Finding Inspiration

That’s what these Games did for the athletes involved, left them humbled but ready to conquer more — including Elmlinger, a below-the-knee amputee. 

In March 2013, Elmlinger was diagnosed with a rare soft tissue tumor in her left leg. For more than three years, she tried limb salvage but made the tough call to amputate in August 2016. Now taking part in her third Invictus Games, Elmlinger won four gold medals in women’s track and field  (the women’s IT4 100-, 200-, 400- and 1,500-meter races) and two in women’s road cycling (the women’s IRB1/IRB time trial and IRB2 criterium).

During last year’s Games, Elmlinger was inspired by Ulfat Al-Zwiri, who became the first Jordanian woman to compete. 

Elmlinger recorded the video coverage on ESPN last year and this year she re-watched that digital video recording of it. That uplifted her. Then, when Elmlinger found out another Jordanian woman, Amany Abdel Rahman, was competing this year, she was overcome with emotion. 

After her 400-meter race, Elmlinger spoke to the medal presenter, a member of the Jordanian government. She told him she appreciated him bringing females each of the last two years. 

“For her to even say, ‘I’m going to come and I’m going to show up to a race, and I’m gonna start and complete that race,’ you know, that’s something that I don’t know that I could say I could do if I were in her shoes,” says Elmlinger. “So having a conversation with him yesterday and just telling him how inspiring that was and how a touching moment that was, even last year it’s still touching, and now seeing them bring two females, it’s an amazing story.”


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