SMIDDY SUPPORTER INTERVIEW – MARK TURNER
With the tenth anniversary fast approaching since that first Smiddy Challenge event back in 2006, I find myself reflecting a lot these days. Nearly ten years on and Smiling for Smiddy is firmly entrenched into the minds of thousands upon thousands of cyclists, triathletes, swimmers, donors, supporters and sponsors. Smiddy events and all these wonderful caring people have raised close to six million dollars for research at the Mater in this time.Adam and Maria – Reasons to go on…
While I feel incredibly proud of starting this wonderful event dedicated to Adam Smiddy, not a day goes by that isn’t a permanent reminder of my mate losing his brave battle against Melanoma. Now with his beautiful Mother, Maria Smiddy, also passing recently from pancreatic cancer, I have yet another painful memory to add to my repertoire of reasons to be involved with Smiling for Smiddy and the Mater Foundation for the long term until a tangible cure is found. If that means I am a hundred years old before that happens then so be it. At least that is how I am feeling right now…
Doubled edged sword
The thing with losing a mate is that it is a double edged sword; the sharp side of that sword is the losing of someone taken before his time. It cuts deep and stays there no matter how positive you may look from the outside. That cut became a little deeper a few weeks ago… The blunt side of the sword is the nicer part of the weapon; you see, Adam’s passing has gifted me with the most incredible people ever to enter my life… Those people, of course include getting to know the Smiddy family as well as I know my own family. Not to mention all the athletes and their families and all our wonderful donors and sponsors; all who believe in the dream we have at Smiddy and the Mater to fund cancer research and to save lives. Which through research is doing just that right here and now thanks to many early warning detection tests developed through research.
Enter one extraordinary man in Mark Turner
For this blog, I thought I might introduce you to one of those incredible people that has entered, not only my life, but the life of Smiling for Smiddy and the Mater. Mark Turner lives in Brisbane and started up his own triathlon training squad called Brisbane Triathlon Squad, which was later changed to Tri Nation. Mark is someone that knows how to pursue a dream on a personal level, but luckily for us, he also shares in the dream that Smiling for Smiddy and the Mater Foundation have in our mission to funding the dollars needed so that our researches can continue on their way to finding a cure for our most common forms of cancer. To date, Mark and his dedicated athletes have been instrumental in helping to raise over $100,000! He is also coaching me in my latest adventure to do Challenge Roth in Germany on July 12 and the Norseman Xtri in Norway August 1st.
Sharky: Mark please tell our readers a little about yourself; how old are you, married, children, sporting background, are you originally from Brisbane and how you got into the role of starting up your own coaching business?
MT: Thanks Sharky, I’m a 44-year-old father of William, 13, and Toby, 10, and live with my long-term partner Suzie in Brisbane. Growing up, my family moved all over Australia but by the time I turned 14 we had settled here in Brisbane. I spent most of my time playing AFL and tennis but started long distance running as a 19-year-old, which is also when I competed in my first triathlon. Some 25 years later my passion for both hasn’t wavered. I loved being active as a child and knew my professional life would somehow involve sport. However after finishing school I was unsure as to where my career was headed so veered away from a path involving university and opted to join the police service.
I was a Physical Education Instructor at the police academy for four years during my time in the Police service, which is when I started to develop a passion for coaching. Fourteen years later I resigned from the service to open and build a swim school. Three to four years of 60+ hour working weeks was a huge learning experience but incredibly enjoyable.
I created Brisbane Triathlon Squad in early 2007 as I’d always loved triathlon, so coaching the sport seemed the next logical step and being able to make a living as a professional coach was always a dream of mine. You’ll never make a million dollars coaching but someone once told me, ”there is a lot of wealth in doing something you love.’ Great advice I’ve always lived by.
Sharky: I know 1990 was the year that tested you physically and emotionally as you had to pull through a very serious injury, one that almost halted your running and triathlons; what happened and did this lead you to triathlon?
MT: When I was a 16-year-old I injured my back playing AFL. It was excruciating and signaled the end of my tennis and football career, not that I was anything outstanding. For the next two years I had periods when the pain was so bad I couldn’t get out of bed. My parents booked me in to see all sorts of health practitioners but no one could tell me what the problem was until we met with an orthopedic surgeon who suspected I had a crack in my vertebrae. I essentially had a broken back and, after two years of searching for an answer, it had become quite bad. The surgeon ordered me to bed for three months.
The surgery technique used in 1989, and the subsequent recovery program or lack of, is unheard of in 2015. These days the surgery is far less painful and patients are moving within 24 hours. Back then it was a four to five hour procedure which involved fusing bone from my hip to the L4/L5 vertebrae in my back. I was then placed in traction for a fortnight in hospital where the nurses had to roll me over to go to the toilet, feed me and keep me sane. It was incredibly painful and without a doubt the longest two weeks of my life. I was then placed in a plaster cast from my chest down to my knees for three months in a Queensland summer. This was to prevent me moving. The theory being that it gave the break in my back the best chance of healing.
When they placed me in the plaster I weighed all of 60kg having lost at least 10kg in the surgery and recovery. I was sweltering in the heat, immobile, had to rely on my parents to wash and feed me, and could hardly eat anything due to the plaster restricting my stomach. I counted the days until the plaster was removed. When it was taken off I was literally all ribs, with more fat under my eyelids than on my stomach. I said to the surgeon, “what do I do now.” He replied, “I don’t care my job is done.” Great bedside manner!
I was incredibly weak and had to use crutches and a walker to get around but at least I was out of the plaster and on the road to recovery. Not knowing what to do I thought swimming and cycling should be fine although I could not swim more than 25 metres or ride around the block without stopping. I did no physiotherapy or specific rehab and, given the surgeon’s lack of care, I wasn’t aware of other options but I spotted an advertisement for a triathlon and decided to train for the event. Twelve weeks after surgery I completed the triathlon at Suttons Beach, Redcliffe and loved it. I had started running only a couple of weeks before the race but I was so just so happy to be moving without pain. I kept doing a few triathlons but running was what really grabbed me and that year I made a state cross country team and competed at the national titles in Tasmania.
Life was good, I was healthy, fit and thinking I might be all right at this caper until the back pain returned. After a visit to the surgeon, and scans, I was on the operating table again and a shattered man. It turns out the fusion was solid but all the wire used to support the fusion was causing some issues. Additionally, I was at a high risk of a disc prolapse due to the fusion. The surgeon’s reply this time after the operation was, “you’ll never run again, just give it up or you’ll end up back here.” This was not an option for me and I decided there must be more I can do. It was then I first started to grasp the importance of core stability, massage, physiotherapy and looking after my back by doing all the little extras. After my second major operation in 12 months, and with the help of a good physio, I did all the rehab, stopped running for 3 months and strengthened my core. This is also when I joined the police service, although I had to convince them my back wasn’t going to be a hindrance. My pre-entry medicals weren’t flattering but my physical fitness testing results got me through.
Because of my back I have never been able to log massive miles in training, have had double hernia and knee surgeries, and suffered multiple soft tissue problems with my hamstrings and calves. I also have a fairly decent scar, get regular massage and physio, and the back stiffens up especially if I sit for too long. But I have been competing in endurance sports for a long time now, and have umpired AFL football at the elite level for 5 years, so I am pretty happy with what I’ve managed to achieve.
Sharky: Mate a good few years after this you were married and had a little boy; are you okay to share with us the trials and tribulations of raising a little fella with a disability, and how you managed to juggle family, work and training commitments without going stir crazy? Was the sport your outlet?
MT: My son William was born in 2001, nine weeks premature. His mother had placenta deficiency, which meant she had to have an emergency caesarean. At birth William weighed 1400grams. For the next few months he didn’t develop like a normal healthy child. When he was six months old he started having seizures, which essentially haven’t stopped since and happen up to 200 times a day. William has never spoken a word, can’t feed himself, is on a cocktail of anti-epileptic drugs, is not toilet trained and requires full-time care. There have been surgeries, numerous extended hospital visits, a couple of very close calls and not a day goes by that I don’t wish it were different. William’s illness is incredibly stressful and puts so much strain on relationships and life. My youngest son Toby is also greatly affected, as we have had to invest so much attention in William. For all Toby’s been through he’s a great young kid however I worry about him every day and hope he won’t be too affected by it all.
I have lost count of the number of times I have cried, sworn, yelled and been pissed off at the universe. There is no greater pain than seeing your child seizure and watching him deteriorate. The condition is literally killing him and at times it breaks you down at every level. The definition of hell is watching William seizure, and then see a tear run down his cheek, knowing he can’t tell you what is wrong. If you have a healthy child or children you are so lucky.
Training, racing and coaching have always been my coping mechanism. Coaching, especially, in that my focus becomes helping others while my own training and racing is more of an outlet for emotions. At times I am far from my best but without it I would not have coped. However, I have come to realise that I need more than training and racing to get by. Thanks to some counseling, a greater understanding of when I need downtime, and the support of some very close people in my life, I am generally coping better now than in the past. There were times when I did not think I would make it through the end of the day. Curling up in the corner crying and not knowing a way out was an all too often occurrence for a number of years.
Sport, over the last 13 years since William was born, has literally saved my life.
Sharky: Can you please enlighten our readers as to how you came to be involved with Smiling for Smiddy. I hear that my co-founder of Smiddy, Rowan Foster and a chance meeting in an elevator at the Mater Private Hospital may be the reason?
MT: One of our long time squad members and good friend Paul Scroggie was at the Mater Hospital while his wife Trish was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Rowan walked into the elevator and noticed the shaved legs. Rowan, being Rowan, said you have to be a triathlete with those legs. Anyone who knows Paul also knows he loves a chat so the pair quickly got talking and Paul suggested Rowan make contact with me as he felt our squad would love to support Smiddy. I met with Rowan and the rest is history.
Sharky: From that first up meeting, to a year later and close to $100,000 was raised; please share with us how this came about and why you jumped on board?
MT: We have a responsibility to give back to those less fortunate. As healthy people, triathletes are very lucky. I have been involved in different charity fundraising events since I first started in the sport. Rallying for a common cause via a challenging physical event is a great formula to raise money and awareness. Squad member Claire Schneider completed the Challenge the same year I met Rowan, the squad got on board and $100,000 was raised. There were some key people, including Claire, who really drove the campaign and created a snowball effect. Hopefully this is just the start of big things for the squad and Smiddy.
Sharky: What I found amazing about your Smiddy journey was that you helped to raise all that money before you had even done a Smiddy event. Then in 2014 it happened and you did the big 1600 kilometre Smiddy Challenge ride from Brisbane to Townsville. Please share with us how this experience affected you?
MT: The Challenge ride to Townsville, essentially eight days of cycling with 50 strangers, was life changing. Sharing my story with a local community was extremely powerful. I am an emotional person, especially when it comes to talking about William, so telling his story and how it has impacted our family was hard but the support and care the Smiddy group showed me is something I will never forget. Listening to other riders share their stories also reminded me how we have a responsibility to support those less fortunate.
Sharky: Okay so you finally got around to fulfilling your dream to complete your first Ironman. Please share with us your personal best times for Olympic, half and full distance Ironman events?
MT: I have never felt that I have that much talent. I have had some satisfactory running and short course triathlon results over the years but I’m still searching for the long course finish I know I’m capable of achieving. I did my first Ironman in 2006 at Port Macquarie, a year after I retired from being an AFL Boundary umpire. It wasn’t a great day out with some poor nutritional choices contributing to vomiting on the bike and the run. In 2008 I completed three Ironman’s in three days for charity, finished Ironman New Zealand 2010 in the back of an ambulance, and multiple punctures on the bike ruined my Ironman Western Australia 2012 and Ironman Japan 2013 efforts. Finally, this year, I enjoyed an incident free Ironman race at Cairns with a 10.10 finish off the back of 11-hour training weeks.
I have achieved a 2.01 Olympic distance time and placed top ten in my age group at the Gold Coast World champs in 2009 over the sprint distance. Over the half distance I have recorded a 4.28 but want to beat that time this year in an attempt to qualify for the 2016 70.3 Worlds at Mooloolaba. I prefer the short, fast sprint races to the longer events but, like many others, would love to jag a Kona spot. I was close at Cairns without really focusing on it so I am confident maybe next year I could race 70.3 Worlds followed by Kona. I’ll need to increase the training hours but I don’t have too much more spare time so it’ll be matter of continuing what I am doing and seeing how it plays out on the day.
Sharky: Okay Mark, someone out there is reading this that either wants to do a triathlon or to do a Smiddy event but they lack the confidence to take that first step. What would your words be to those people?
MT: Don’t let fear hold you back. Fear often stops people having a go. The only way to develop confidence is familiarity so you need to get out of your comfort zone and have a go. It is a cliché but you only get to know yourself when you are outside your comfort zone. As a coach, it goes without saying I think you should use the services of a professional to help you achieve your goals. With some consistent training and guidance anyone is capable of finishing a triathlon or Smiddy event.
Sharky: How do you get your athletes excited about fundraising for Smiddy, as every year our events always have a sprinkling of athletes from your triathlon squad?
MT: Sharing my story helps but so too does the little things like printing the Smiddy logo on our squad uniforms so our members know we support the charity. Claire’s involvement in Challenge, interest from other squad members, and regular fundraising means the Smiddy message is continually being shared. Hopefully our athletes will always be involved with Smiddy events.
Sharky: Mark about four months ago you took on a different role as a General manager at Healthstream in Queensland. How are you balancing out this full time role with your coaching responsibilities?
MT: It’s hard mate, I have to admit, but the opportunity to take on this role was too good to knock back. I am very passionate about getting people to exercise and enjoy the benefits of being fit and healthy. Taking on the position at Healthstream was another way to do that. The Healthstream facilities at Gardens Point and Kelvin Grove are first class and we also manage another facility at Newstead. Professionally it is testing as I have been out of the corporate workforce for ten + years, but it’s exciting to be laying the platform for a positive future for Healthstream in Queensland. I still coach in the mornings, and some evenings, and manage to squeeze in a quick session myself before suiting up for the day. My focus is on the role I’m doing at a particular point of time, and doing that to the best of my ability.
Sharky: Okay you and I both love motivating people into action to look after themselves through sport and healthy eating and lifestyle choices. Also to appreciate how lucky we are, and if along the way, we can help out others less fortunate, then it has been a win for all involved. Do you see Healthstream being involved in the future with Smiddy and the Mater?
MT: Absolutely. Healthstream’s new junior swim club will be supporting Smiddy through fundraising events and we are also looking at hosting some endurance events. A few years ago we ran a 24 hour charity triathlon at Kawana. Due to the challenges of closing a public road for a long period of time we were forced to stop running the event, which is a shame because it was a lot of fun. However, I am looking into organising a 24 hour indoor triathlon at Healthstream, which would be a Smiddy fundraiser. I am just about there in terms of being able to get the event off the ground.
Sharky: Mark before we go please share one thing with us that may came as a surprise to someone that is reading this that knows you?
MT: I have a shocking chocolate habit!
Sharky: Mark thank you so much for taking the time out to give our readers an insight into your very active and busy life. Any final words of advice for people out there wishing to get onboard as an athlete or as a fundraiser for Smiddy and The Mater Foundation?
MT: It’s a pleasure. I think what you do personally for Smiddy and your own story is very inspiring. So to be part of that is a privilege and I know when others get involved they will get so much out of it. The events and the experiences are great but more importantly you’ll meet some wonderful people and make some new lasting friendships.
If you wish to know more about Healthstream, Tri Nation, Smiling for Smiddy or the Mater Foundation please click on any of their links below.