Mark Ford seemed almost indestructible.
A veteran of three Coast to Coasts and several ultra-marathons, the high performing senior manager at Fulton Hogan and father-of-two was about to compete in yet another ultra-marathon.
Then he woke up on the morning of 6 February 2019. He was unable to speak, walk or keep his eyes open. An undiagnosed small hole in his heart had allowed a clot to enter the bloodstream and lodge in his brain. It was an ischemic stroke and the future was entirely uncertain as 40-year-old Mark went straight to intensive care at Burwood Hospital.
For someone who had always lived by setting challenges, nothing prepared him for this.
“It was brutally hard – nothing comes to close,” he says.
Almost two years to the day, later, Mark will be climbing a new mountain. He’s doing the mountain run in the 2021 Coast to Coast, as part of a team with his Fulton Hogan workmates Craig Stewart (cycle) and Peter de Goldi (kayak).
Mark attributes being able to walk and talk again, let alone run over a mountain pass, to the power of a step-by-step, day-by day approach to life – of living in every moment.
He’s sharing his experience to help others handle life-changing experiences.
“’Bolts out of the blue’, like a stroke, can have surprising and not always negative side-effects,” Mark says.
“As humans we tend to take so much for granted. I’ve since learned not to take anything for granted, never to dwell on problems, and never to ask ‘why me?’
“If you have a major setback and are able to ask ‘why not me?’ you’ll be in a much better position to overcome it.”
Mark has also come to understand the healing power of encouragement.
“I have never been around people as encouraging as those in the medical community. No matter how small the achievement, or how small the improvement, they have been constantly encouraging. This constant positive reinforcement is something I want to take in to every aspect of my life.
“When, in a flash, you go from life as normal to being unable to function as a father or to work, you re-evaluate what defines you. Ultimately, I’ve learned it is not the immediately visible things that matter, but the quality of relationships.”
He says the support and love of his wife Keryn and children Tayla and Kobe has been paramount. (You can see Tayla and Kobe in the accompanyng photo, running with their father).
“Because the focus is on the person with the stroke, the efforts and sacrifices of the support team at home can go unrecognised. They have been wonderful.”
Mark says Fulton Hogan has also been “incredibly supportive”, giving him the time needed to recover. Nine months after the stroke he came back to work for eight hours a week, and has since gradually increased that to full time.
“I have been humbled by the response of my colleagues,” he says.
He’s now just hoping two colleagues in particular come through with the goods on the Coast to Coast.