ORLANDO, Fla. – Sarah Rudder was on the verge of a key promotion in the U.S. Marines on Sept. 11, 2001 when the terrorist attacks struck and eventually left her without a leg.
But she has come back from that setback to thrive on another stage, winning seven medals through Tuesday in two days of Paralympic events ranging from rowing to shot-put at the international Invictus Games founded by Britain's Prince Harry for wounded members of armed services.
"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, awaiting her promotion ceremony, was unscathed in the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon and able to help others to safety, but two days later she was not so lucky. When she returned to the defense complex to help remove remains of victims, her left ankle got stuck in a concrete barrier and was crushed. The injury, which required five reconstructive surgeries, eventually led to her left leg being amputated two years ago.
"The pain was debilitating," Rudder said. "I couldn't take it anymore."
After struggling to deal with the loss of a limb, Rudder found a way to turn despair into triumph through sports. She became a part of the military's Wounded Warrior program, which paved the way for Rudder to compete in the Invictus Games, held this year at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando following an opening ceremony Sunday evening.
By Tuesday, Rudder already had won seven medals for Team USA, taking home the first gold medal of the games on Monday when she finished first in the lightweight powerlifting competition. She also won gold in the one-minute indoor rowing competition.
On Tuesday, Rudder won gold in the discus and 100 meters and also took home silver medals in four-minute indoor rowing, shot-put and 200 meters dash for a two-day total of seven medals.
Excelling at the Invictus Games, which includes nearly 400 wounded and sick servicemen and women from 14 countries around the world, allows Rudder to prove that her injury won't limit what she can accomplish.
That was the precisely Prince Harry's goal when he started the Invictus Games a year ago.
"I served along with soldiers from all over the world," Prince Harry said at the opening ceremony. "I saw the sacrifices they and their families made to serve their nations. I learned about the importance of team work and camaraderie in the way that only military service can teach you."
Rudder, who won nine medals in last year's Warrior Games, said it was amazing to see competitors with so many different kinds of injuries.
"I might be missing a leg but there are people out there missing two and three limbs or are paralyzed from the waist down or chest down. They are my inspiration.
"Me just having one leg missing, I'm able to look at them and say, `If they can do it, I can do it."'