"The body does not want you to do this….it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy... It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed." Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon Champ
From Mark Black’s first moments on earth his life has been nothing short of a challenge. Within the first 24 hours of life, Mark underwent open-heart surgery to correct a life threatening heart defect. Mark barely survived his first precious hours of existence. Throughout his youth, Mark’s life had been intertwined with procedures and surgeries related to his congenital heart disease. By the time he was 23 years old he was told he would die without a heart and double-lung transplant. What other choice did he have but to choose this rare and dangerous surgery?
“Doctors were very clear with me prior to my surgery that my transplant was a treatment, not a cure. That no matter what, I would be on medication for the rest of my life and that eventually one of two things would happen: Either the transplanted organs will begin to fail (rejection) or because of a suppressed immune system to prevent rejection, I would succumb to an infection that I can't fight off. The five year survival rate for my surgery is 50%”
In October 2001, Mark moved thousands of miles from home and was put on the transplant waiting list. After just four months on the list, Mark's condition grew worse and he was placed in the hospital where he stayed for six months. Finally, after almost a year on the list, Mark received a life-saving Heart & Double-Lung Transplant and a second chance at life.
Fast-forward seven years. Mark has traveled many miles, through Eastern Canada. He’s been to New Brunswick, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. Destinations not for rest and recuperation as a result of a difficult surgery, but each pinpoint on the map marks where Mark has challenged his own existence. With the heart and 2 lungs of organ donors, Mark has become a marathon runner.
“Finally, after almost a year on the [transplant] list, Mark received a life-saving Heart & Double-Lung Transplant and a second chance at life.”
“I'm at year seven. So I do my best to stay healthy, eat right, exercise, try to stay away from people who are obviously sick, but other than that I live life. I decided a long time that I didn't go through everything I did to live in a bubble. So I strive to live as normally as possible.”
There are several parallels between running marathons and battling a chronic illness, Mark will admit. The first being that it's about enduring to the end more than about how you get there. In both cases there are bumps and obstacles to overcome, and in both cases there were times when he felt like he wanted to quit. But the victory goes to he who endures and that is probably what most appeals to Mark about marathons. Once the race is finished, no one can ever take it away from you. When Mark speaks to any audience whether it is a group of sick children or a group of marathoner runners, the message is the same, "Refuse to Quit". Once you make a commitment in your heart that you will not quit no matter what, you can't fail.
Mark’s illness has also brought many gifts, the most obvious being that when God closes a door he opens a window… always. There is an appreciation for life that he didn't have as much before as well.
“There's nothing like coming close to death to teach you about life.”
Mark also has a relationship with his parents and family now that he would not likely otherwise have because of all the time they spent together while he was waiting for his transplant. Finally, he has his career. He wouldn't be a motivational speaker if he hadn't gone through what he did.
“No one wants to listen to what a 30 year old man has to say about living life if he hasn't gone through some pretty unique things like I have.”
Mark has had the good fortune as a speaker to hear from many people who say that he has had an impact on their lives. He has collected hundreds of testimonials from people talking about what a difference his presentation and book, Live Life from the Heart: 52 Weeks to a Life of Passion and Purpose, have made in their lives. It is a true blessing to Mark to be able to have this kind of impact on people.
It is said that a marathon should be divided into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart. It would be a safe assumption that this too is how Mark Black chooses to live his life every day, with the same winning combination of head, personality, and heart to win his own ‘marathon’ he so graciously and appreciatively calls life.
Read more about Mark's life, book, and where he's speaking on his website: http://www.markblackspeaks.com
Thank you Mark, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Julianne Barclay and Story of My Life