I recently took a trip up to Columbus with Dane and my cousin Jason to see the events at The Arnold Classic. It was a great experience to see all the amazing athletes, and we got to watch the Olympic lifters with Arnold himself. He was taking selfies with the lifters in the background — we got a giggle out of that!
Though it was an incredible exhibit of human feats of strength and the amazing things people can do when they choose, this article isn't about that. Not directly, anyway. It's not about Olympic lifting, or powerlifting, or Strongman, or Crossfit. It's about a person that I miss and love dearly. A person I lost about 20 years ago.
As I watched the powerlifters do some incredible lifts - some up to three times their body weight - it brought back memories of Mark. He was my first cousin and a natural athlete. He was not only that, he was someone I respected very much.
When we were kids, he would come to our house and work doing whatever he could around the house to earn money. He was always ambitious. He was working and saving, and growing. And growing. He'd come inside and down a gallon of milk. It would drive my mother crazy! She'd get up to make eggs or cereal and say "Where's the milk? I just bought a gallon yesterday, where did it go?" Mark would be at our house daily and daily he'd eat everything in the house. My memory of him at this time, around age 14, was of a tall, lanky boy and his push mower always with a gallon of milk in his hand.
He was tall and lean and powerful. He got it honestly. Our grandfather was a big, strong man. His father is a big, strong man. It was in his genes.
When I was about 20 years old, I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida to live with Mark at the beach. He was the same age as me but somehow seemed so much older and wiser. He had his own business, took care of his younger siblings who were still in high school. He drove a Corvette, had a great house, and a giant cell phone (it was 1990). I looked up to him. He was so very all-American and inspiring.
He started powerlifting when he was in his early 20s. Very quickly, he became a top lifter in the South. While I lived with him, I got to witness firsthand the life of a powerlifter: the diet of massive amounts of protein and hours in the gym training. He loved it. And, I loved watching him lift. He would always do Arnold impressions.
He loved everything. Life was good for him. Beautiful girlfriend, all of the material things, strength, looks, friends, family. I would ask him, what if something happens and you lose everything and he would say "I made this once, I can do it again." I will never forget that. That one comment from him had a profound effect on me.
He worked hard to make a good living and he was generous and big-hearted. Not only did he care for his siblings and help raise them, but he also gave me a place to live for free. With Mark's help, so many of our friends and family lived better lives.
Around 1997, close to the time my mother and grandfather had both passed away, Mark injured his back lifting and started taking OxyCodone for the pain. The drug took hold and he was in its grips, unable to break free. It was so hard to understand. I'd seen drug addiction plenty of times and how it would wreck families. But how could this happen to Mark? He was formidable in every way: mentally, emotionally, and physically. Our family was devastated by this. Seeing him lose his will, shrink down to an unrecognizable figure that didn't even resemble the young man he was six months before was more than we could bare.
We prayed for him constantly. The family talked with each other regularly trying to find a way to help him back to the life he had before. We weren't successful and shortly after he died from a drug overdose at 27 years old.
I realized, after my recent trip to The Arnold, that I never really grieved over losing him. Already numb from the loss of my mother and grandfather, I didn't allow myself to feel the tremendous pain from losing someone else so close to me. Mark wasn't unbreakable as I thought. That was just my youthful perspective. He had a good head on his shoulders, but we are all at risk of having a bad day that we don't recover from. That is life.
To Mark: You were amazing. Kind, loving heart. I'm sorry beyond what I can express that your life ended too early. I admired you so much. You would have done so much more, given more time. Your words of wisdom, your love, and your memory will always drive me and always be with me. I miss you.