An evening display of pomp, patriotism and fireworks concluded the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando last Thursday, May 12. This second installment of a Paralympics-style competition — which commenced May 9 — received ongoing ESPN coverage from the 10 sports venues that hosted the 10 competitive events.
Fourteen nations were represented with a total athlete census of 485 competitors. The United States Invictus team — comprised of 115 athletes — dominated, with the United Kingdom contingent a close second with 110 military competitors.
“Invictus” is a Latin word specific for “unconquered” or “undefeated.” The Invictus Games are the epitome of military bravery and personal sacrifice — with emotional back stories and worthy examples of the word’s Latin definition. Surviving and overcoming a life-changing injury was the commonality for all of the military men and women who participated.
Former U.S. Marine Sarah Rudder was awarded the most medals of any of the athletes for her domination in a variety of the 2016 Invictus events. Rudder won the first gold medal awarded soon after the opening ceremonies. She achieved gold in both the lightweight powerlifting competition and the one-minute indoor rowing competition on Monday.
Rudder returned on Tuesday to win five additional medals. Her victories included a gold medal in the 100-meter track & field competition, and the discus. Rudder’s received second-place honors with silver medals in shot put, 200-meter dash, and in the four-minute indoor rowing.
Rudder was awarded the Jaguar Award for her overall athletic dominance during the competition. “It was amazing,” Rudder said in an interview Tuesday. “It shows that just because I’m an amputee doesn’t mean I can’t go out and put my heart and soul on the track or any event that I do.”
Rudder became an amputee after being assigned to the Pentagon two days after the 9/11 attacks. Her military duty was to recover the remains of entombed Pentagon personnel. She became a secondary casualty when a damaged support beam within the Pentagon fell and crushed her left leg during the mission. After multiple surgeries, her leg was amputated in 2014 due to incessant pain.
Another Invictus gold medalist is Penn State’s Max Rohn. The Longmont, Colorado, native achieved gold for his dominating performances in discus and shot put. His winning discus throw was more than 16 meters beyond the second-place finisher.
Rohn is a Penn State engineering student with a career goal to use his personal experience and academic training to further advance the engineering of prosthetic limbs. Rohn made the decision to become a Nittany Lion soon after his life-changing injury.
Just five months into his first deployment as a U.S. Navy corpsman, he severely injured his right leg in 2009 while riding in a vehicle in Afghanistan. Enduring 15 surgeries and two years of incessant discomfort, similar to Rudder’s attempt to save her left leg, Rohn requested that his injured limb be amputated.
Despite the amputation, Rohn cited that “losing my leg made me a far better person,” and his Invictus participation “was a celebration of recovery,” when interviewed May 13 on CBS This Morning.
Penn State’s “Ability Athletics” is one of only three U.S. programs specializing in the track and field training for disabled athletes specific to national and international competition. Rohn enrolled at Penn State after his 2011 amputation to both train for Paralympic competition and study at the College of Engineering.
Rohn was the first gold-medal winner for the inaugural Invictus Games of 2014 in discus and shot put, and silver medalist in sit-down volleyball. Hosted in London, England, the home country of Invictus founder and British military veteran Prince Henry of Wales, the next Invictus Games will be held in Toronto, Canada, during September 2017.
Rohn’s next goal and those of many American Invictus participants are to become team members for the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sept. 7-18. This summer’s upcoming competition will offer 526 events for paralyzed athletes from 175 nations.
Mariann Main is a Delaware native and undergraduate of Ohio State University. She is has a master’s degree in community counseling from Georgia State University and can be contacted at MariannMain@gmail.com