Story by Michelle Baldanza
“I’m a soldier, first, then an athlete,” said two-time Paralympian Ellie Marks.
Ellie Marks has stayed at Fisher House on three separate occasions during her recovery. The first time was after her injury in Iraq. Her second stay was after a severe respiratory infection caused her to be put on life support. She stayed at Fisher House again when she had her left leg amputated.
Ellie credits the relationships that she formed while staying at Fisher House with her family that encouraged her to continue military service.
“The love and support that I got while I was there changed my life,” said Ellie. “I had my brothers and sisters there to educate me. Having access to these people who had years of knowledge ahead of me really helped save my career and helped me to stay in the military.”
“The biggest thing about Fisher House is that, the moment you walk through the doors, you’re home,” explained her husband and combat veteran Mason Heibel “It’s about being together, and helping each other, and healing together through community.”
This year, in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, Ellie Marks won a gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke, a silver in the 50-meter freestyle, and a bronze in the 50-meter butterfly. She added these medals to her gold and bronze medals from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games, her gold medal from the 2015 Military World Games, and her four gold medals from the 2016 Invictus Games. In addition to these remarkable achievements, Ellie broke a world record in the women’s 100-meter backstroke during the 2020 Games.
“I am so proud of Ellie’s accomplishments, proud to have been part of her support system, and proud to call Ellie and Mason my friends,” said Fisher House Foundation Chairman and CEO Ken Fisher.
Fisher Houses are here for service members, veterans, and their families as they go through the recovery process after illness or injury. There is a network of 92 Fisher Houses throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany that serve as a home away from home for military and veteran families whose loved one is being treated for an illness or injury. For more than 30 years, Fisher House Foundation has saved military and veteran families more than $525 million in lodging and transportation costs.
“The Department of Defense Warrior Games and Invictus Games have shown that adaptive sports are critical in the recovery of our athletes and their families,” said Ken. “Ellie’s spirit and determination embody the spirit of both games and the Paralympics.”
Fisher House Foundation’s mission does not just stop once a service member or veteran’s stay at Fisher House ends. The Foundation continues to be there through its support of adaptive sports. Fisher House Foundation created and leads the DoD Warrior Games Family Programs and partners with the Invictus Games because they know the healing process takes time, community, and family.
Fisher House Foundation also operates the Hero Miles Program, using donated frequent flyer miles to bring family members to the bedside of injured service members as well as the Hotels for Heroes program using donated hotel points to allow family members to stay at hotels near medical centers without charge. The Foundation also manages a grant program that supports other military charities and scholarship funds for military children, spouses, and children of fallen and disabled veterans.