US Para swimmer Elizabeth Marks delivered an emotional speech when she accepted the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2016 Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award (ESPYs) in Los Angeles, USA, on Wednesday (13 July), thanking those who helped her in her recovery and thus qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The US Army Sgt. incurred an injury to both her hips while serving as a combat medic in Iraq and later lung disease that put her on life support, but Marks was able to recover and qualify for Rio 2016 in the S8, SB7 and SM8 classifications.
She was one of three US Para athletes honoured as Tatyana McFadden received the Best Female with a Disability and Richard Browne was awarded the Best Male with a Disability.
“Thank you to the Pat Tillman Foundation for taking care of your own and being an example of what it means to turn an absolute tragedy into a triumph,” Marks said in her speech, which can be viewed on ESPN’s website.
“I’m humbled and in awe that you think I’m worthy of this. I will try to earn that the best I can.”
Marks thanked her father, and current and injured service members for their support, saying: “I want to do everything I can to bring home the gold in Rio. And it will be because of you. We did this. Anything from here on forward I will consider a testament to your praise and love and affection.
“And I will leave you with this: if you’re struggling, if you’re hurting, whether it’s mental or emotional, if ever you think you’re alone. And if you think no one cares, I do. Please come join me behind the blocks.”
Both McFadden and Browne received their first ESPY awards. McFadden became the first athlete to claim all four major marathon titles – Boston, London, Chicago and New York – in a calendar year in 2013 and then repeated it in 2014 and 2015.
At the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar, sprinter Browne not only won two world titles, but obliterated two world records in the process.
McFadden wrote on Instagram: “We did it!!!!!!!!!!! My very first #espy. Thank you @espn for putting on a great #espys. You know when it's a great show when you laugh and cry in one night!!! Tonight was about celebration and memories. Thank you to everyone who voted!!!! It really takes a village. I love what I do every single day!!!! God is so good and has brought me so much to my life. Thank you everyone for the wonderful love and support [for] us.”
The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to commemorate the former National Football League (NFL) player and US Army Ranger’s legacy, and honour an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of Tillman.
The ESPYs gather top celebrities from sports and entertainment to commemorate the past year in sports by recognising major sports achievements, reliving unforgettable moments and saluting the leading performers and performances.