Posted on Tuesday 13 August 2019

Mark’s story – how joining a CLIC Sargent CrossFit class changed my career goals

In July 2017 Mark was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a chronic neuromuscular autoimmune disease, after noticing difficulty with moving his muscles in the right way. Despite there being no cure, Mark has been able to manage the condition through medication and was able to get back to some sort of normality.  

But during a routine scan in November, doctors found something in his chest.  

Mark says: “They said to me, ‘By the way, we have another problem’ – that’s when they told me that there was a tumour by my heart.”  

Two weeks later, Mark underwent open heart surgery to remove the tumour, and it was later confirmed that they found malignant cancer cells within his thymus gland. 

Mark speaking at a Northern Ireland Social Care Council event in June 2019

Mark said: “Before all of this happened I was very fit and very active. At the point of finding out about the autoimmune disease I was pretty much paralysed. I felt very isolated and at the time I didn’t know if the medication was going to work and if I would get back to being me again. I was 6ft7 and 18 stone, I was boxing a couple of times a week before this. In that moment lying there I felt helpless, there was nothing anyone could’ve said or done to help. 

It was tough making that transition from things are bad, then things are good with the medication working and I’m me again. Slowly but surely I was getting back to where I needed to be. And then the cancer diagnosis came. It was like someone throwing a grenade into the room – boom, you have cancer.” 

It was like someone throwing a grenade into the room - boom, you have cancer."

Mark met Simon, a CLIC Sargent Young Person’s Social Worker who set up the MOVE Forward programme – a CrossFit exercise class for young adult cancer survivors.  

Mark said: “Before I went to the class I thought it was pushing me out of my comfort zone. I was almost comfortable isolating myself and coping by myself. I had this idea that I would turn up and everyone would have chemo bags and PICC lines and look sick. But I was really wrong, everyone was normal and like me. 

There’s a real sense of comradery, everyone’s pushing themselves to do it. With me there was something about becoming physically strong again that helped me to break down some psychological barriers. Others in the class say the same thing. It empowers you, you feel good because you’re exercising but you’re also part of the team. 

I can tell they’re fighting for something. It’s a way of getting rid of some of the bad stuff that’s happened to you. I remember reading a quote one time, and it’s something I really believe – the worst stories create the strongest people. If you witness some of the group in the CrossFit gym you’ll see it. 

Meeting Simon and his CrossFit programme has completely changed my life, and that’s not being dramatic to say that. It’s given me something to fight for and a sense of direction that I needed. 

Mark felt so inspired by Simon’s group that he started thinking about training to become a CrossFit coach himself. So when Simon approached Mark about the ‘Thrive Not Just Survive’ grant, he knew exactly what he wanted to use it for.  

He said: “It’s something I truly believe in and I know it works, and there’s 25 other people in Northern Ireland who know the same thing, so I’m emotionally invested in it. Simon helped me with getting the application sorted and I was so happy to receive the grant. It’s changed everything.

“I came from a really dark place but with the help of CLIC Sargent and mostly Simon I came out the other side a different person. I’m strong physically and psychologically. Plus I want to help people who’ve felt the same way that I was feeling.  

Simon deserves a medal for what he’s doing for young people with cancer. He really goes over and above to support you in any way he can, he’s really someone to admire. 

Mark passed his CrossFit level 1 course in April 2019. He is now assistant coach to Simon, helping other young adult cancer survivors to regain their fitness and motivation.  

Mark said: “The ‘Thrive Not Just Survive’ grant has been a blessing. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my goals, to help other young people like me who have struggled with the effects of cancer treatment, both physically and psychologically. 

“It’s given me the opportunity to try and help make a difference. Coming on board as an assistant coach with the MOVE Forward programme has given me the sense of direction that I needed.”  

Find out more about the Thrive Not Just Survive grant and how you can apply.

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