US mom, veteran wins 5 gold medals at the Invictus Games

Sarah Rudder is a Marine Corps veteran, a mother, an amputee and now, a five-time gold medalist after competing in this year’s Invictus Games in Toronto.

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“I just wanted to do better than last year. I wanted to show that I was improving,” Rudder, 35, who also competed in the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, told ABC News. “I [set a personal record] in every category I competed in.”

Rudder, of Temecula, California, took home three gold medals in the women’s discus and 100-meter and 200-meter dashes in the track and field competition on Sept. 24.

Mark Blinch/ReutersSarah Rudder of the U.S. comes off the start blocks to win gold in the women’s IT1/IT2/IT3 200m final during the athletics at the Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 24, 2017.

One day later, Rudder earned her fourth gold medal, in the women’s shot put competition. She earned her fifth gold medal in the one-minute rowing competition.

Rudder also took home a silver medal in the four-minute rowing competition and a bronze medal in women’s seated volleyball as a member of the U.S. team.

Britain’s Prince Harry, who founded the Invictus Games in 2014 as a competition for wounded service members, awarded Rudder her first gold medal.

“For me, it was an absolute honor,” said Rudder. “Seeing the change that he’s made for all athletes of all countries, not just his own. He’s there supporting every single country.”

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via APPrince Harry poses with women’s 100-meter dash medallists, from the left, Sabrina Daulaus of France, silver, Sarah Rudder of the USA, gold, and Christy Wise of the USA, bronze, at the Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 24, 2017.

Rudder’s lower left leg was amputated in 2014, 13 years after she injured her left ankle while performing a search and rescue operation at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

She overcame a blood clot in her first year as an amputee and found a way to heal both inside and out when a group of fellow Marine veterans invited her to start competing in sports.

“For us, it’s healing,” Rudder said of competing against other service members at events like Invictus. “We’re proving to not only others but to ourselves that we can continue to fight. We had to adapt and we overcame.”

Rudder’s husband, sister, and parents were on hand to watch her race to victory in Toronto, as well as her 9-year-old son, Xavier.

Sarah RudderInvictus Games gold medal winner Sarah Rudder poses with her 9-year-old son, Xavier, at this year’s games in Toronto.

Rudder said she balances being a mother and a full-time athlete by training while Xavier is at soccer practice.

“Every morning, I do CrossFit,” said Rudder, who serves as her own coach. “In the afternoon, while my son is at soccer practice, I sprint around the soccer field or I practice shot put on the field.”

She added, “I found that fitness, for me, was healing. I am not thinking about anything else during that time and I just try and grasp those moments any chance I get.”

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via APSarah Rudder of the United States races to a gold medal in the women’s 100 meter dash during the Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 24, 2017.

Warren Toda/EPASarah Rudder (L) of the U.S. leads Sabrina Daulaus of France as Christy Wise (R-rear) of the U.S. falls in the Women’s IT1/IT2/IT3 200m Final during the Athletic events of the third Invictus Games in Toronto, Sept. 24, 2017.

This year’s Invictus Games in Toronto featured 550 competitors from 17 nations. The athletes have spent the past week competing in 12 different sports, from powerlifting to cycling and wheelchair rugby.

All 550 of the competitors are active duty and veteran service members who “have become ill or injured during or as a direct consequence of their service,” according to the games’ website.

Rudder is one of 90 U.S. athletes competing in this year’s games, according to the Department of Defense.

Rudder said she is especially proud of the message her gold-medal winning performances send to her son.

“It allows him to know that we don’t give up. We continue, no matter what we have in life, we continue,” she said. “For him, the respect of our military is at a high all the time.”