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Making his Mark

DIGGING IN: Mark Urquhart in his para triathlon hand cycle.
DIGGING IN: Mark Urquhart in his para triathlon hand cycle. Contributed Mark Urquhart

LIKE something out of a Hollywood film, Mark Urquhart has overcome many near-death paratrooper drops, met royalty and overcome addiction on his way to becoming Australia's first ever para-bobsledder.

The newly appointed Australian para-sliding sports team captain has big dreams to race against able-bodied athletes one day, but the first challenge is raising enough money to get him and his team to their first international para-sliding event at the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics.

But perhaps more interesting is the story of how the 47-year-old got there.

In 1992 Mark Urquhart found himself being dragged behind an aeroplane by his parachute while banging into the side of the aircraft.

Only three months later he found himself plummeting to the earth with his legs caught up in a semi-open chute in a separate accident.

Mark shattered his knee and despite roughly 16 years of major surgeries, he was diagnosed as an incomplete paraplegic and became addicted to pain relief medication.

He was also dealing with undiagnosed Post Trauma Stress Disorder and a failing marriage that eventually led to his "mental breakdown" in 1999.

"I didn't know what was wrong with me," he said.

"I thought I was going crazy, in a way I was. I didn't know how to cope with it and to hear that there was actually a reason was a huge relief for me."

That turned Mark on to the road to recovery, but it wasn't without its hiccups.

He "got to the point of suicide" around 2000 when his addiction was at its worst, so doctors fitted him with an internal morphine pump.

Despite losing a lot of movement in his legs, it wasn't until eight years later when he was sitting at the dinner table with his then wife and kids that his legs stopped working.

The morphine had crystallised around his spinal cord and "like a grater" was chipping away at his nerves.

If that wasn't enough, Mark developed a hernia in his stomach and during surgery to remove it a doctor cut his bowels, giving him blood poisoning and almost killing him.

A year later Mark was taking his kids swimming when Bundaberg's famous swim teacher Paul Simms offered to train Mark, and so began one of the most important chapters in his life.

Last year Mark became the open class paratriathlon world champion before heading to the Invictus Games where he was Australia's strongest athlete with two silver and two bronze medals.

It was there that he had a special moment with Prince Harry.

"When I went to the Invictus Games and started competing with soldiers from around the world who were triple amputees and speaking to Prince Harry really changed my mindset," he said.

"He has this ability to make you feel like a super human - it made me feel invincible again, like when I was 20 and in the army.

"The last thing he did, he high fived and called me by my nickname.

"I started to love myself again and believe in myself.

Mark has raised $5000 of the $40,000 needed for him and his team to get to their first international para-sliding event.

To donate, email makingyourmark@outlook.com.

Topics:  mark urquhart para-athlete


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