Resilience, perseverance and dedication help define one Marine veteran’s focus at this year’s Invictus Games
By John Groth
Gabby Graves-Wake on the track during the 2017 Invictus Games. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).
After not medaling in any of her track events at last year’s Invictus Games, Gabby Graves-Wake finished with an impressive haul this time around.
A Team USA member and Marine Corps veteran, Graves-Wake recorded four medals – earning one in every track and field event she competed in Sunday and Monday at York Lions Stadium in Toronto.
Graves-Wake earned a silver medal in the women’s IT4 100 meters (21.71 seconds) and the women’s IF5/IF6/IF7 discus (15.81 meters) and bronze in the women’s IT4/IT5 200 meters (39.0 seconds) and the women’s IT4/IT5 1,500 meters (5:17.31).
Gabby Graves-Wake took bronze in the women’s IT4/IT5 200 meters. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).
“So last year Invictus for me meant just unconquered,” Graves-Wake said after her track events Monday. “But, you know, after last year and not placing in track and going back home and really getting serious about this sport, I think Invictus now means unconquered, resilience and perseverance and dedication.”
It was a busy Monday for Invictus Games athletes, as they competed in track and field events, wheelchair tennis and powerlifting. Graves-Wake had a busy day, too, competing in three of those four – field, track and powerlifting at the Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre that night.
She finished with a personal-best 46 kilograms (101.413 pounds) in the event – and it’s something she didn’t expect. She lifted 40 kilograms (88.185 pounds) on her first lift, then 46 and tried 60 kilograms (132.277 pounds) on her final lift but couldn’t make that. She’d never done weightlifting at the Invictus Games or at an event before but loved the charged atmosphere, which featured dance/pop music, strobe lights, a clapping and enthusiastic crowd and intensity – that gave her energy.
“I wasn’t able to get 45 kilos in practice. We didn’t know what I was capable of. I was just getting 85 pounds. Today was a personal best for me. I now know where I’m at and I now know where I can get to,” said Graves-Wake, who sustained a brain injury and a central nervous system offset when she was injured in a motorcycle accident Feb. 23, 2014. She has increased tone, or muscle spasticity and coordination impairment and balance impairment.
So, after earning a bronze in discus in last year’s Invictus Games, Graves-Wake
That’s when she contacted Tim and Stephen Binning, a father/son pair who serve as coaches for Arizona Disabled Sports in Phoenix.
Tim is the father. The 50-year-old’s primary job is as a distributor for Mission Foods, but he also coaches athletes in wheelchair track and has been with Arizona Disabled Sports as a coach for the past four years.
Stephen, 22, is the son. He was born with spina bifida, competes in wheelchair track races and plays wheelchair basketball.
Tim said she’d met them at the Angel City Games in California and after she moved from California to Arizona contacted Arizona Disabled Sports and found them again. They decided to help her.
Training was rigorous. Five to six days a week, hours at a time and sometimes two practices a day they worked on wheelchair track and field techniques – especially pushing stroke. He said she had the desire and they just needed to teach her better form.
“She used to just kind of push a little bit on her pushrim on her chair,” Tim Benning said. “She now is able to go all the way down and able to use as much as people can do it when they’re racing.”
Stephen has noticed a huge improvement, too.
“We’ve been on the track and in the weight room six days a week and she’s just gotten stronger and her push is much better than what it was,” he said. “She’s more in shape.”