Veteran Wounded on 9/11 Rediscovers Life with Below-the-Knee Prosthesis

Veterans Day Sarah Rudder
November 10, 2022
Hanger Clinic

On Veterans Day and throughout the year, we are grateful to those who serve and their families for their selflessness and sacrifice. We sat down with Sarah Rudder to learn more about her experience as a veteran and living life with a below-the-knee prosthesis.

When Sarah was just 12 years old, she saw the US Marine Corps Silent Drill Team for the first time, and from that moment on, she knew she wanted to be a Marine. Five years later at the age of 17, she enlisted.

While based at the Marine Corps headquarters in Arlington, Virginia after boot camp, Sarah was in a car accident in early September of 2001. Her car hydroplaned and hit the center divider, leaving her with a broken scapula and nose, multiple fractured ribs, and head trauma. 

Wounded at the Pentagon on 9/11

Very shortly after her car accident, on September 11, 2001, Sarah was back at the headquarters being promoted from Private First Class to Lance Corporal. Just after the ceremony had finished, the unthinkable happened. The Pentagon was hit by the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 plane. Only about a mile away, Sarah and her fellow Marines were quickly on the scene and helping survivors to escape. The next day, she was helping to recover non-survivors when she stepped backward into a hole and a chunk of concrete fell onto her foot. At the time, she didn’t realize the extent of her injuries, and adrenaline kept her performing her duties. When Sarah finally stopped to slow down and take off her boot, she realized her ankle had been crushed and severely damaged.

Following her injury, Sarah was medically discharged from the Marines. She had surgeries on her foot, Achilles tendon, and knee, and experienced complex regional pain syndrome and nerve damage. After numerous reconstructive surgeries, she could hardly tolerate the pain. She experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury from her car accident, and felt herself struggling to find her path. Sarah was given two choices – place a rod from her hip to her ankle with the possibility of continued pain or amputation. She chose amputation. In 2014, at 32 years old, Sarah had her leg amputated below the knee.

I decided right there that’s what I would do and my mind never changed.

Sarah Rudder

Life with a Below-the-Knee Prosthesis

After her amputation, Sarah found prosthetist Mike Ward, CPO, at Hanger Clinic in Temecula, California, and six weeks after her surgery, Sarah was fitted for her prosthesis.

“It was such a great experience. Mike explained everything to me. When I received my first test socket, Mike told me it was going to take a while to walk and that I still may need a cane to assist me. I told him I was in pain and on crutches for 10 years, and I wasn’t going to use them again. I was in the office for five hours that day, learning movement patterns and how to start walking. I was so excited when I was able to walk without pain, and then I discovered fitness.”

Sarah found Catch a Lift Fund, a non-profit that provides combat-wounded veterans with fitness grants, gym equipment, community, and nutrition. The organization gave Sarah her first barbell, starting her on her path to fitness. She then got serious about CrossFit, an activity that enabled her to incorporate so many movements into her life. She has competed in The CrossFit Games, WheelWod, and for Team USA at the Invictus Games.

“Mike and I have a really good relationship. He has always been on board with new activities I want to try, supporting me through my CrossFit passion, and creating legs to help me through my competitions. Since the beginning, I have gone through at least 20 sockets adjusted to fit my life. I gave him one of my gold medals to let him know how much I appreciate him and all of his work. I would not have been able to get through this journey without him.”

Now Sarah volunteers for Catch a Lift Fund when she is able to, along with training for CrossFit competitions. “Fitness had and continues to have a huge impact on my life. This foundation gave me the tools and accountability I needed to restart my life again. I now give back when and how I can to the foundation that truly helped save my life and gave me a purpose again.” Outside of her passion for fitness, Sarah spends time with her husband, Navy Veteran Marcus, and two children riding bikes down the beach and coaching soccer.

Recognizing Veterans Day

“Veterans Day is a day to reflect on the sacrifices and service of our veterans and their families. For me, it is a difficult day, but I feel supported by other veterans, my family, and people in my life. It’s another opportunity for me to reflect on 9/11, where I was, what I was doing, and what I was thinking at that time. For veterans like me who were there or served on combat deployments, it’s quite often an everyday thing we live.

Take the opportunity to check in with your battle buddies and other veterans, let them know you are there for them and they are never alone. Just knowing that someone is there to support them when they need it or least expect it means more than many know.”

A heartfelt thank you to the veterans who are an important part of our Hanger family, and all veterans who have served our country. We’re proud to honor you on Veterans Day and every day for your service and sacrifice, and we salute your bravery, selflessness, and invaluable contributions.

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