U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks ponders a question from the barista: What kind of coffee would she like? Mild, medium, dark roasts — the bronze, silver and gold of coffee. She smiles and offers a ready answer: “Whatever kind has the most caffeine.” Fresh from a grueling morning swimming practice and weightlifting session, Marks needs the energy. She grabs her cup, walks upstairs and snags a seat by the window. A few miles to her left, Pikes Peak climbs 14,114 feet into the crisp blue sky.
Marks, 25, has stolen away from the Olympic Training Center to savor this steaming cup of black coffee at a hipster cafe before going to “therapy,” or what she calls it when she gets work done on a tattoo that covers much of her right leg, which was severely injured when she deployed to Iraq as a combat medic. Her left leg sits in an IDEO (intrepid dynamic exoskeletal orthosis), a prosthetic device that makes it possible for her to walk. She doesn’t go anywhere without it.
The tattoo tells her life story. She puts her cup on the table and leans down to her right to examine it. She rubs her hand along it, pointing out the highlights, like an author flipping through her memoir.
The dominant feature is a crow, battered and bruised but still very much alive and vibrant. That represents her. The entire tattoo is gray and black except for a red cross on the crow’s ankle bracelet. The cross represents her work as a combat medic in the Army. There are dog tags that will eventually bear the name of her father, James Marks, a Vietnam veteran she adores. When the tattoo is completed — many hours of therapy from now — an American flag will be the bed upon which the rest of it lies.