13 CARES: Despite debilitating obstacles placed in his path, one man is seeing the opportunities life presents
Think about the stuff you do everyday. Things you’re in charge of, but never really think about. What if you suddenly couldn’t tie your shoes, brush your teeth or button a shirt?
Two years ago Mark Block was loading boxes into his car when he tripped and hit his head. His entire body went numb. It was so bad, he drove himself to the hospital where doctors did tests and told him he had a spinal cord injury.
“Welllll,” Mark stammers, “it was frightening! All of these things were going through my head, like who’s going to do my job? Who’s going to take care of my family? What’s going to happen to me?!?”
The injury affects Mark’s heart rate, breathing, strength and balance so he goes to Younker Rehabilitation for therapy. The high school track star broke state records, and he is used to winning. “There are a lot of parallels and it carries over, because running, like the injury I’m dealing with, is the mind telling the body what to do.”
It’s a familiar routine for Mark. In August of 1986 he was in a horrible crash. His car went into a drainage ditch, flipped and hit a tree. “The coroner was there because they thought I was dead on the scene. Then they revived me.” He was in a coma for weeks and on a respirator for a month. Mark’s parents were prepared for the worst. “They were told while I was in the coma that I would never move again.” When Mark woke up, doctors told him he would be a quadriplegic. He refused to accept it. “I thought there must be a reason I came back and I don’t think it was it was to spend my life this way.”
At first, he was only able to move his big toe. Eventually he was able to sit up, then stand, and finally take a step, all in the same room where he’s doing therapy today. “Isn’t that ironic?” asks Mark, “it gives me chills.”
Just like a car crash or a fall can change your life, so can a chance encounter. Loran Storts hadn’t seen Mark for 25 years. The last time was on the track, where they were rivals. When their paths crossed again, Loran couldn’t believe what Mark told him.
“He started sharing his story, I was like, WOW.” Loran had his own “wow” moment a few years ago. He walked away from big paychecks and promotions. “Forget about the corporate side and the dollars,” he says, “do what you love to do and you’ll be good at it and be blessed!” He started coaching, spending more time with his family and doing a weekly webcast. “My guests are people who’ve done truly amazing things in their life physical, spiritual, mental, you name it.” People like Mark.
Surviving that crash in 1986 wasn’t enough for him. “When I walked out of Younkers rehab six months later, I told people, I’m going to run a marathon.” He enrolled at UNI and eventually signed up for a class called “Seminar in Fitness and Mental Health.” He explains, “The class was finish a marathon, get an A. If you didn’t finish get an F.” He was walking with a cane and the professors asked him if he could run. “No, not yet,” Mark said. They asked if he could walk. “The farthest I’ve walked is two miles.” A plan was developed for Mark and he started training. When the runners would run he would walk and his goal was a 10k. That’s 6.2 miles. By mid-term he was able to do it, so the goal was bumped up to ten miles but he set a different goal. Fifteen miles. He crossed the finish line of the 1988 Drake Relays Marathon in eight hours, thirty-three minutes. “That was a great day. This event changed my life forever. It gave me a new way to look at things, a new way to look at life.”
Instead of seeing obstacles Mark chooses to see opportunities. “I went to visit some young kids and they said, what are you doing here?!? You’re walking! I said I’m here because 25 years ago I was just like you, paralyzed from the neck down and in a wheelchair.” His message is simple. “You never know what you can accomplish until you try. If you listen to what other people tell you, you might not try at all, you never know.”