Did You Know: Active-Duty Soldiers Compete in the Olympics

Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, Team US, prepares for the women’s breast stroke finals. She wears a blue swim cap with the US flag on it and bends over the water in position.

Written by Bianca Cegatte 

I just didn’t think it was possible.  

The concept of an active-duty Soldier having the time or energy to compete in the Olympics was so unbelievable to me that I simply… couldn’t believe it. To many others, this may be something that they’ve always known but to civilians like me with little to no military background, it came as a shock.  

From the outside looking in, I can only assume that our Soldiers give all of themselves to military training and the qualifications required to prepare for deployment at any moment. At the same time, I have always imagined our Olympic-level athletes training in their sleep to achieve the level of talent required to make it. It’s a level of commitment so extreme and difficult to do once, that I couldn’t imagine someone doing it twice – and simultaneously. 

But since I’ve begun my role at Army Emergency Relief, I’ve learned so much about the military community and what it takes to be a Soldier in the United States Army. It never occurred to me the sacrifices that had to be made behind the scenes, from child caregivers to the demands of PCS. I’m extremely proud of the work AER does to help our Soldiers and Families and proud to play a small part in it, especially after learning just how inspirational our service members are.  

Most recently, I’ve learned about the World Class Athlete Program: a formal program since 1997 that provides Soldiers the opportunity to compete internationally while also serving. According to their website, U.S. Soldiers have been competing even longer than that, earning 111 Olympic medals since 1948. In learning about this program, I learned just how varied each Soldier’s experience in the military can be. Serving our country doesn’t always look like camo and mud crawls. It can look like research laboratories, jumping out of planes (with style), performing in a marching band, and even competing in the Olympics.  

The incredible resiliency and strength that military training provides Soldiers are also reflected in their success as Olympians. Just look at Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Marks, a Soldier-Athlete that just broke two U.S. records at the Paralympic Trials last month and she didn’t even know she liked competitive swimming until she was recovering from her injury after serving in Iraq! I couldn’t imagine someone being that strong and that powerful to the point where they do the absolute most, and then top that too. But here they are: Our U.S. troops are incredible, and they continue to outdo themselves every day.  

I’m eager to watch the Olympics this year – more than I’ve ever been. I want to see what else our Soldiers have up their sleeves. I’m ready to be astounded all over again as they continue to do what I once thought was impossible.  

You can join me in watching the United States’ Soldier-Olympians at the Opening Ceremony of the 2020-21 Olympic Games this Friday, July 23.