(I’ve been friends with Mark Cathey online since 2008, when we met at Bikeforums.net. We’ve continued as friends through social media. But I didn’t know the man, or everything he overcame, until this interview. We talk a lot about overcoming challenges here at A Taste For The Woods, and I can’t think of a better example than Mark.Here is his remarkable story. )
Q: Every success starts somewhere. When and where did yours start?
A: I was born in Fresno California in 1957 and lived in southern California since 1959.
Q: Was athleticism always part of your life?
A: I was always active and participated in baseball and football as a kid, until high school and lost interest for the most part when I started drinking (age 16) and smoking and got my license. Cars and fun were more important than sports.
Q: Sounds like a typical story.
A: I played in some softball leagues in my early 20’s but by 25 I was done with that as well. I graduated high school at 155 pounds and by the time I was 19 I had ballooned to about 200. That’s when I did my first diet and got back to 155 lbs. and my weight struggles were in full swing by then, I just didn’t know it.
Q: Fat and drunk is no way to go through life. But you chose to change. What prompted your giving up drinking?
A: In 1989 I started to attend the LDS church. I was still drinking at the time (had not missed a day of drinking since I was 18) and in 1989 decided to make a mighty change in my life…get sober and quit smoking. I checked into a rehab for 30 days and 90 days later I was baptized into the church (Jan. 1992) and have been sober ever since with the help of my family and Heavenly Father.
Q: That was the first comeback. You still had weight to deal with. How did you tackle that?
A: Around 2005, after several yo yo diets over the years losing 30-40 pounds and then gaining it right back, my wife started Weight Watchers and was getting good results so I tried that for a while. I was staring at fat and fifty and really needed to make some changes in my life.
Q: How overweight were you at this time?
A: I started at 240 lbs. (I was 5′ 10″ at the time) and dropped to 205 when I got the urge to start power walking. I took the dog, an overweight Shepherd mix, with me for a month or so but pretty soon she hid when I got the leash out…too fast for her I guess. Then I started to slow jog and did that for a while, really loving the results I got.
Q: So you walked and jogged. When did the bike come in?
A: My almost 50 year old knees that had been carrying around too much weight for too many years started to give me trouble. That’s when a family member suggested a bike. I went to Wal Mart and and picked up a heavy full suspension MTB and I was hooked. The more I rode the higher my fitness level got, and because I have an addictive gene in me (hence the alcoholism and over eating) I got more and more dedicated to fitness and health.
Q: You were following the Weight Watchers plan through all this?
A: After losing 40 lbs. on WW I switched to Atkins and lost another 20 and was satisfied with that for a while, then I wanted to do my first triathlon and really needed to lose another 15 so I hit on a modified Paleo/Atkins diet that really trimmed off the weight. Now I’m down to 160 lbs. Cross training (swimming, running, biking) and days of brick training (stacking riding and follow immediately with running) started to see results that I am very pleased with. One of the big draws to being fit is the praises from your friends…amazed you can do what you do. That is a motivating factor and keeps me going as well…won’t lie, vanity has a place in successful training/weight lose.
Currently I cycle and run primarily. I started to dabble in triathlons in early 2014 but I struggle with swimming…perhaps I’ll do a couple of sprint tris again, but I don’t see an Olympic triathlon in my future.
Q: So you worked and overcame both drinking and obesity. But you weren’t done with challenges.
A: My first real setback from staying active was a continual problem that I had for the last 20 years…bad back. I had a degenerating disc between L-4 and L-5 causing severe sciatica and it finally needed attention in November 2011. I had back fusion done and was eager to get back to my routine.
Q: What was your recovery like?
A: I was walking 16 hours after surgery and discharged 36 hours after surgery. The first day home, with the aid of my walker. I walked a half mile, and then a mile the next day. I ditched the walker and walked at least a mile for the next week. At 10 days I decided to hop on my MTB and take a spin around the block…my wife freaked out about that so I backed off for another week and then I was on my road bike, back at it. I had a fitness level that was much higher than the average 54 year old and recovered much quicker than expected. I rode a century bike ride just 10 months after surgery and did it in my best time to that date.
Q: And your recent 15 minutes of fame was another challenge to overcome.
A: The next big setback was last summer (July 14, 2014) in east Texas while on vacation to see my newest grandson. I was actively training for a triathlon in October when on a bike ride I was clipped by the mirror of a passing F-250 pickup. He was doing 65mph. I broke 7 ribs, and had a collapsed lung and broken scapula…yeah, that hurt. Put a real damper on the vacation too. 1500 miles from home in a 38′ motorhome that my wife can’t drive.
Q: Here is the video of your accident, as recorded on the camera on your bike. It has over 200 thousand views on YouTube and was featured in news stories across the United States. I caution readers who haven’t seen this video be prepared for graphic and disturbing footage.
Q: Mark, you are lucky to be alive. How did you recover from this? How soon after did you return to your routine?
A:After 4 days in the hospital I was discharged after they removed the chest tube and 3 days later I drove the motorhome back to California over the next 4 days. The doctors said at least 12 weeks for recovery, but I was determined to get back in the swing of things and at 3 weeks and 5 days I ran a mile. 4 weeks to the day I went for a short bike ride. By 6 weeks I was still hurting, but back in the swing of things except for swimming. Too much shoulder pain to swim.
As for damages? I’m all settled with the insurance company and they wrote a check for the full value of the policy based on the video. There really wasn’t any dickering at all. The damage to the bike was so minimal as to not even be mentionable and I had a kit cut off along with a destroyed brand new Bell helmet (never buy a cheap helmet).
Q: That video is pretty conclusive. And you must have sold a lot of cameras after the video came out.
I confess, Mark, if this happened to me I’m not sure I’d be able to overcome the accident. What drove you to get back out there?
A: I believe that because of my addictive nature I have a drive for things that create endorphin’s…and cycling etc. does that. So I think it is what drives me to get back into exercise as soon as possible after a setback. It’s a passion that many people have for any number of things, one just needs to find it and channel that passion towards something that will do you good.
Q: Your life took a dramatic turn during that ride in Texas. Aside from your return to riding and running, what else are you doing post-accident?
A: These days I am working with a couple of different advocacy groups for cycling and a new project in the area I live to create a cycling/walking path that will be 40 miles or so in length. I’m already hooked up with city council and others to get that going but it is in the infancy stages currently. I believe it is extremely important to get the message out via social media that cyclists are human beings, not just some piece of carbon fiber going down the road. Fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, son and daughters…people, real people and we deserve the same respect one would give a pedestrian walking on the shoulder.
Q: In my own experience distracted drivers are a big challenge to a cyclist.
A: Texting is so huge and such a problem it truly is the elephant in the room. The only way to stop it is going to be very stiff penalties. In much the same way MADD changed the way we look at drunk driving, we need the same approach to texting because it is equally as dangerous as shown by more and more studies.
Q: We are all better off for your work, Mark. Thank you for it, and thank you for this interview.