In February 2014, Sergeant Gabariel (Gabby) Graves-Wake, an Intel Analyst stationed at Camp Lejeune, was returning to base on her motorcycle when she was struck by a distracted driver. A Marine Lance Corporal at the time, Graves-Wake suffered a severe head injury, which ultimately lead to her medical retirement from military service.
Diagnosed with a moderate to severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Gabby was left with some muscle spasticity in her upper extremities, with the lower extremities more severely impacted, affecting her coordination and balance. These physical challenges have not affected her desire to participate in sports, though. “I love competing,” Gabby said. Following recovery and transition treatment at the Navy Medical Center in San Diego, the Department of Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports Program led Graves-Wake to connect with Adaptive Sports & Recreation Association. The local chapter of Disabled Sports USA in San Diego is where she participated in a number of sports including volleyball and sled hockey.
In January 2017, Gabby moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and got involved with Arizona Disabled Sports (ADS), another Disabled Sports USA chapter. There she began to work with Tim and Stephen Binning, whom she had previously met at the Angel City Games, and in May she took part in the annual Desert Challenge. In September, 2017, Gabby was one of 90 ill and injured retired or active duty military athletes who represented the United States at the Invictus Games in Toronto. Graves-Wake also competed at the Games in Orlando in 2016 in three events, earning three medals but none in track. Following the Orlando Games, Gabby returned home and put together a training plan with her coaches to prepare her for Toronto. “They really put in the effort to get me ready,” she said of both Tim and Stephen. In fact, they joined her in September in Toronto.
The results of her hard work were evident in Toronto – Gabby took home two silver and six bronze medals in cycling and athletics (track & field) competitions ranging from Women’s 100 M (IT4) and 1500 M to Women’s Discus and Shot put. “The Invictus Games in Toronto were amazing,” she said. “It was the performance of my life.” In addition to the medals, Gabby achieved personal bests at the 2017 Games. In the 100 M (IT4), she took a full second off her previous best time and in the 1500 M she finished much stronger this year than she had in Orlando.
In Toronto, Gabby also played in a sled hockey demonstration game, which featured athletes from a number of different participant nations. Gabby is an active member of the U.S. Women’s National Sled Hockey Team and Arizona’s sled club, the Coyotes. Like many of her teammates on Team USA, she is working to grow the sport around the world with the hopes that it will indeed become a medal sport for women in the Paralympic Games.
There’s a lot on tap for Gabby in the future. On November 4, she will be participating in “Run the Raceway”, a three mile race at Phoenix International Speedway that will push her distance capabilities. She will be also rejoining the U.S. Women’s Sled Hockey Team in December. As for the Invictus Games in 2018, she hopes to snag a few gold medals in Australia if she is selected for the US team again.
In the meantime, Gabby is balancing the various components of her life, which include training, taking care of her mom and a part-time job. “It is challenging to balance those requirements as well as make sure I am at the competitive level I want to be at,” Gabby said. We are confident that, whatever she tackles, Gabby will achieve success.
Athlete Profile Photo by Sgt Cedric R. Haller II. Courtesy of DoD.
Top Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg. Courtesy of DoD.
Bottom Photo by EJ Hersom. Courtesy of DoD.