Marine Veteran Reflects on Invictus Games Experience
As the opposing team's leading scorer soared in and out between players, moving the puck under the sled with his two sticks, the goalie stared him down, ready to defend during a sled-hockey exhibition match at the 2017 Invictus Games here.
Medically retired Marine Corps Sgt. Gabby Graves-Wake said she enjoyed being the goalie for the Sept. 29 match, playing with athletes from the 17 nations competing in the games. When she isn't competing in Invictus, she's playing for the U.S. Women's National Sled Hockey Team and Arizona's sled club, the Coyotes.
"It's been a lot of fun. The adventures I've gone on with a lot of the players on the roster have been memorable," the former intelligence analyst said. "I had a good time traveling the country last season, playing new teams, meeting new people and being challenged."
Graves-Wake, daughter of Sharon Graves-Wake, a former Navy ensign, said she joined the Marine Corps to "learn humility and to do something better for myself."
"I was a cocky little teenager," she said. "I figured joining the military would give me a sense of the world and that the world's not about me."
She was injured when a vehicle hit her on her motorcycle at a red light, resulting in a traumatic brain injury and damage to her back. It also affects her central nervous system. She was assigned to the Wounded Warrior Battalion, learned about the Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program and learned about cycling and wheelchair track.
Graves-Wake said she went to the Marine Corps trials and competed at her first Department of Defense Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2014, taking home gold, silver and bronze medals in track and field and cycling events. Over the years, she has medaled at the DoD Warrior Games in track and field and cycling.
At the Invictus Games this year, she earned a silver medal in the women's 100-meter, wheelchair race, a silver in discus, and bronze medals in the women's 200-meter, 400-meter and 1,500-meter wheelchair races. She also took home a bronze medal in the women's shot put in her disability category.
In high school, she competed in karate competitions, and the Warrior Games and Invictus Games have brought back her athleticism.
"I feel like I'm in better shape now than I was in then," she said. "My upper body is stronger now than it's ever been, because my legs were everything for me -- whether it was running, martial arts, just in general -- and now my legs aren't everything. They don't function the same way. My upper body's kind of had to pick up that slack, and I'm stronger and better for it. There's things I can do now that I could never do then."
Graves-Wake, who served for five years, said events like the Invictus Games are important. "Without them, we lose our competitive mindset," she said. "We lose our will to want to do anything, and if it wasn't for programs like the Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program and military adaptive sports, we wouldn't have gotten off the couch. Some people would've been one of those 22 [suicides per day]. That 22 number could probably be like 32."
Advice for Others
She said she recommends adaptive sports to anybody considering them. "Travel your journey, don't shut the world out. It gets darker if you do. Open up, take some risks and you never know what's going to happen," she advised. "The Invictus Games and the Warrior Games might not be an easy place to start, so find a community adaptive sport or Paralympic sport club and contact them. Most of the time, there are veterans like us there, and we will be happy to help you get started."
Graves-Wake said her family has been instrumental in her recovery.
"My mom and stepdad have been a huge part of my recovery," she said. "It was them who told me, 'Things are different, but you're not worthless.' It was them who told me I could go back and I could finish school. It was them who told me to keep fighting. And when I was breaking down, it was them who I called first. So for them to see me out here thriving and happy and enjoying what I do, no longer in that spot, it means a whole lot because I know I wouldn't have been able to do it on my own."
(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter @CollinsDoDNews)