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7 Badass Veterans You Need to Watch In the Paralympics

Melissa Stockwell

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Competing in: Para Triathlon

Stockwell served as a second lieutenant in the Army when she became the first female soldier to lose a limb in active combat. She lost her left leg in 2004 while deployed to Iraq, when an improvised explosive device (IED), or roadside bomb, went off. But rather than let that "first" define her, she went after another one: Becoming the first Iraq war veteran selected to compete in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. The 36-year-old represented Team USA for swimming, and was the U.S. team's flag bearer in the closing ceremonies. But those aren't her only major accomplishments—a three-time USA Paratriathlon National Champion, Stockwell used the athletic drive she grew up on (she competed in gymnastics, track, and diving as a child) and completed her first Ironman in 2013. One of her main sources of inspiration to keep pushing forward? Her son, Dallas. "[I want] him to see his mom dream big so he has big dreams of his own someday," she said in a press release. As for what keeps her going during a tough race, Stockwell recalls, "A coach once told me, 'You haven't made it this far to only get this far.' I think about that when it starts to hurt."

Photo: Instagram/@mstockwell01

Angela Madsen

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Competing in: Para Track and Field

Madsen was serving in the Marine Corps when she suffered a back injury—and underwent a botched surgery that left her spinal cord compromised. After battling back from her injuries and overcoming a bout with breast cancer, she became the first paraplegic woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean in 2007, and the first person with a disability to row across the Indian Ocean in 2009. Not to mention she competed in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing on the U.S. rowing team, placing seventh.

With that kind of track record, you'd think the 56-year-old athlete would be competing in rowing once more while in Rio. But the grandmother of five can't be confined to one sport. (Seriously, can this woman get more badass?) She also competed in 2012 in track and field events, including shot put, when she took home the bronze. That's where we'll see her compete again this year, so keep your eye out—we have a feeling she's about to blow us away once more.

Photo: Twitter/@debmoler

Elizabeth Marks

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Competing in: Para Swimming

It was 2010 when Marks was deployed in Iraq, serving as an Army combat medic, when she suffered severe hip injuries that left her with no sensation in her left leg. Wanting desperately to be declared "fit for duty (FFD)" so she could return to her military career, she used swimming as a primary form of rehabilitation, according to ESPN. Eventually, an Army swimming coach convinced her to get competitive. She's currently ranked number one in the world in the 100-meter breaststroke, according to the International Paralympic Committee, so she's definitely a force to be reckoned with.

And for those who love the royal family, Marks has connections there too. The 25-year-old earned gold at the Invictus Games, an international multi-sport event created by Prince Harry for wounded, injured, or sick armed servicemen and women, earlier this year—and nabbed an endearing (and highly coveted) hug and kiss from said royal. Why? Because after she received her medal, Marks gave it back to Prince Harry and asked him to give it to the staff at Papworth Hospital in the U.K. Rather than being at the inaugural Invictus Games in 2014 like she intended, Marks found herself at Papworth Hospital after developing a mysterious lung disease that caused her lungs to fill with fluid. She was placed in a medically induced coma, and says the staff there saved her life. Harry followed through on Marks' request, presenting the hospital with the medal in June.

Photo: Instagram/@ellie_anne_marks

Jennifer Schuble

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Competing in: Para Cycling

A hand-to-hand combat class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1997 led to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) for Schuble, but unfortunately that wasn't the end of her injuries. Just a few years later she suffered another TBI in a car accident, and in 2004 was subsequently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that involves damage to nerve cells in the brain and that often causes impairment of muscle coordination. The 40-year-old refused to let that stop her, and she told NPR that she uses cycling to help keep her MS at bay. That serves her well, as she blasted onto the cycling scene at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing, breaking a world record in the women's 500-meter race and claiming gold. She's racked up four additional medals (three silver, one bronze), and we won't be surprised if there's a sixth after her time in Rio.

Photo: Twitter/@JenniferSchuble

Kari Miller

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Competing in: Para Volleyball

Not all soldiers suffer their injuries on the battlefield. That was the case for Miller: She was hit by a drunk driver while getting ready for officer training school in 1999, requiring both of her legs to be amputated (one above the knee, and one below). Though she'll compete in Rio as part of the sitting volleyball team, this isn't the Air Force veteran's first team sport—she first played wheelchair basketball (Miller also played basketball in high school) while recovering from her injuries. But the 39-year-old athlete joined the U.S. Paralympics Women's Sitting Volleyball Team in 2006, helping the team bring home a silver medal in the 2008 Paralympic Games and again in 2012. We won't be surprised to see a three-peat in her future, but our fingers are crossed this time it's gold.

Photo: Twitter/@karisittingV

Lia Coryell

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Competing in: Para Archery

Despite living with a terminal illness caused by an anthrax vaccine—a reaction that is similar to ALS (commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease) or MS—that has left her wheelchair-bound since 2011, this Army veteran persevered to make her archery debut at the World Archery Para Championships in 2015. Meaning, yes, Coryell had only been shooting for a little over a year before she was at the Olympian level (she's currently ranked number 10 in the world). While her skills are clearly something to admire, it's her mindset we're obsessed with. When explaining her illness to the World Archery Federation she said, "It will continue until I can't breathe anymore, but that day isn't today, and I'm not going to worry about it. That arrow hasn't been shot."

Photo: Instagram/@lia.coryell

Patricia Collins

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Competing in: Para Triathlon

Another military service member to suffer injury off-duty, Collins was cycling with friends when she was hit by a car in 2006, ultimately leading to her decision to amputate her lower left leg in 2007. After conquering rehab, the Army paratrooper (she's completed 100 parachute jumps, including two after the loss of her leg) returned to active duty, serving in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq (not to mention the Pentagon and Fort Bragg) throughout her 25-year-career. Collins recently retired, and now the 47-year-old will be representing the U.S. in Rio as she swims, bikes, and runs her way to the finish line.

Photo: Facebook/USA Paratriathon

Samantha Tucker

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Competing in: Para Archery

An 11-year-career in the Air Force meant Tucker saw her fair share of injuries. But it was a motorcycle accident in 2010 that took her lower left arm. Regardless, the 46-year-old defied the odds and picked up archery only two years ago, which will be her sport of choice in Rio. How? She was working for a prosthetist when a patient rolled in in his wheelchair and asked if she'd ever tried archery. He then went to his van and brought back a 4-foot target and a compound bow with an adaptive strap. Tucker gave it a go, and immediately fell in love. Oh, and that patient? Yeah, it was 2012 Paralympic archery gold medalist Jeff Fabry. NBD.

Photo: Instagram/@usaarchery

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