MS became my gift that forced me to live 50 business years in 1/5th of the time and Find My Grit, when I heard about Mark Daniels’ journey I wondered how he managed to find GRIT with such tenacity. I have long been in awe of those who come out the other side of perceived insurmountable challenges more determined, with renewed focus. Mark Daniels inspired me from the moment I was introduced to his story.
Bends in the road
Mark’s life changed on the 17th December 2015. Having recently returned to Western Australia from a four-month deployment aboard HMAS Arunta in North East Asia, Mark was enjoying his last working day on the ship at the family day, with his father and brother. His intentions for tomorrow; be out on the wakeboard.
That night Mark road his motorbike to Port Kennedy to join his best friend for dinner.
“After an amazing dinner with my mate, his wife and daughter, I jumped on my bike again and set off for my apartment in Wellard, unaware my life was about to change forever.
I never made it home that night; just a kilometre from my mate’s place a distracted motorist turned across my lane and I slammed into the side of his car at 70 kilometres per hour. My bike flew more than 30 metres with my bike getting destroyed – my body didn’t fare much better.”
- Able Seaman Mark Daniels, Marine Technician
Mark suffered a broken neck, 11 broken ribs, a broken hand, a punctured lung, a ruptured kidney and a severed femoral artery. A passing motorist saved his life, stemming the bleeds until five ambulance crews attended. Paramedics later told him that they never expected him to survive the night.
Placed in an induced coma for 10 days at Royal Perth Hospital, Mark’s journey to ‘new normal’ had begun. 6 days in, Mark’s parents were asked to make the toughest decision of their lives – sign the permission form to amputate Mark’s right leg in order to save his life. Little did they know it was only the beginning of this long road; Mark would endure a further 12 surgical procedures, dialysis treatment and a gruelling physiotherapy schedule.
Only you know what you are capable of
I can’t fathom the magnitude of having to make that decision and I can’t imagine the reality Mark faced when he woke up. Having MS I have had to think about and come to terms with the possibility of spending time in a wheelchair, but contemplating similarities, is simply not possible.
In the weeks following Mark began to suffer depression.
“I couldn’t see the point of living anymore, but then I was put in touch with Paul de Gelder – the former Navy Clearance Diver who lost his hand and leg in a shark attack while diving in Sydney Harbour, Paul told me that people were always going to tell me that I can’t do things because I’m disabled but only I know what my body is truly capable of.
He told me to never stop pushing the limits – I don’t think Paul realised how much he helped me, and I hope to meet him one day to thank him in person for changing my outlook on life.”
- Able Seaman Mark Daniels, Marine Technician
It never ceases to amaze me how often we receive what we really need to hear. Paul de Gelder said the one thing that Mark needed to hear:
You are powerful beyond measure!
With a renewed mindset and still only 5 months on from the accident, Mark took his first steps on his new prosthetic limb. From there it appears there’s no stopping him. Mark has achieved fierce milestones with the help of his friends.
“The next big milestone for me was the HBF Run for a Reason which we ran and rolled 12 kilometres in my wheelchair raising money and awareness for charity, Soldier On. I was supported by family, friends and serving members – in total, we managed to raise $2,300.
My Facebook page, which is called 'Team Mark', is a way of expressing my motivation and my latest video was viewed 20,500 times – I love having the ability to motivate and inspire people on a daily basis.”
- Able Seaman Mark Daniels, Marine Technician
I smiled as I noted that at the time I captured the link below, Mark’s video been viewed more than 28,478 times! #beawesome
I was incredibly honoured when Mark agreed to spend time with our Scope Vision enthusiasts; there were some answers to questions I was dying to know. Enjoy!
Spending time with Mark Daniels
Personal motivation and mindset
Who or what inspires you?
Thankfully with the powers of social media, I have the ability to network with Adaptive Athletes all over the world. (I don’t believe we are disabled athletes because disabled is a state of mind; disabled is sitting at home on the couch with a victim’s mentality. We learn to adapt and overcome.) I draw inspiration from their journeys and how they have overcome hurdles in their lives.
Motivation is a hard thing to find once you lose it and rehabilitation a long and difficult process, how do you keep yourself motivated?
I look back at where I started and how far I’ve come. I think all too often we spend so much effort trying to reach our goals that we forget to take time to reflect on what we have already achieved. I also surround myself with positive, motivated people so that I feel their vibe and want to push hard, lift heavier and achieve greater things.
You’ve already achieved some incredible milestones, talk to me about the process you follow in goal setting.
Everyone has always told me ‘Have something to fall back on’…why? Because we like our safety net; we fear risks and we are terrified of the unknown. When I set my goals, the only thing I have to fall back on are my morals and my beliefs. I don’t believe in organising a Plan B without first throwing yourself fully at Plan A. If you know there’s a second chance then most people, myself included, won’t give it everything they have. If I don’t succeed with Plan A, or I hit an obstacle, then I start looking at plan B.
You have set some pretty lofty challenges such as walking the Kokoda Trek with Mates4Mates, participating in the 2017 Invictus Games and hopefully being a Paralympian one day. Talk to me about determination and focus, have you always been so driven?
Like I said, sometimes I hit obstacles and have set backs. Unfortunately my biggest enemy is my knee; due to the lack of bend and constant surgeries, I’ve had to push a few of my goals back. This year I’ve decided to have my knee amputated to improve my range of movement and the quality of my life. The Invictus Games will have to wait until 2018, but hopefully I might be ready for Kokoda in September.
I’ve always been driven. I was a big martial artist growing up and won 3 National Titles by the age of 16, ranking 6th at the 2008 WASO World Titles for Karate. I think my accident amplified my drive. With there so much that I can’t do…what I can do, I make sure that I do it to the best of my ability.
Upon reflection being diagnosed with MS is one of the best things that has happened to me; how do you now feel as you look back on the events of the past year? Do you believe everything happens for a reason?
I hope so, because otherwise I have no explanation for why this happened. Although some days I struggle with my new reality…I wouldn’t change it. I have the ability to help and inspire thousands of people. It’s humbling to have people constantly seeking advice about overcoming obstacles within their own journeys.
What has been the biggest challenge you have had to overcome in adjusting to your ‘new normal’?
I think losing my independence at 22. I hate having to rely on others for help. It makes you feel less of a man…maybe it’s an ego thing, but for me, I like to be able to look after myself. Luckily I have an amazing girlfriend who only complains occasionally!
What advice would you give to someone who is embarking on a similar journey?
Define your own limits, don’t let your limits define you! Screw “Disabled”, Screw Normal! Don’t let other people tell you what you should be doing with your disability. Life is short; tomorrow is never promised. Never stop pushing to redefine disabilities!
As the Aunt of twin nephews I see that they are exceptionally competitive with one another even though they are only 7, did being a twin make your recovery journey any easier?
God, if you could see us in the gym, you would laugh your head off. We are very competitive and I suppose I have Owen (my twin brother) to thank for getting me into the gym initially. I have a much bigger build than Owen, but I don’t expect that to change anything between us and he doesn’t expect my leg to change my effort. We feed off each other. There is probably not a day Owen misses out on rubbing his 6 pack in my face.
As competitive as we are, he is probably the most supportive person in my life. He flew me across Australia to complete in a race with him, with me in my wheelchair. He tirelessly fund raises and he tells everyone he meets about my journey.
When I get down, I call him and he picks me up again. He tells me to get my butt to the gym and train because he knows exactly how my brain works. Are twins connected? I don’t know about that, but Owen knows me better than anyone.
I wouldn’t be where I am without having surrounded myself with great people. Who have been your biggest motivators on your road to recovery?
Some notable people that I have really been motivated by are:
- Paul de Gelder – ex Navy Diver
- Mark Urquhart – ex Army Paratrooper who has had a double osteointergration after being a para for 8 years and is now walking again
- Curtis McGrath – Paralympic Gold Medallists and Australian Army
- Brant Garvey – Australian Paralympic Triathlete
Is there much support for people in similar situations? Or is this something as a society we need to direct more attention to?
There are great organisations for amputees such as Limbs4Life, and for Military such as Soldier On and Mates 4 Mates, but as a society we are really letting people with disabilities down.
I roll or walk through a shopping centre and people stare at me like I’m a freak. We are people, not side show attractions. People awkwardly divert their gaze, or have a look of horror on their faces…why?
Why not ask someone that’s a little different how their days been, or even about their journey if you are really that curious? Sometimes just a smile can save someone’s life. Depression and isolation can be killers.
People living with disabilities get segregated from society, from the work force and from life. We need to try and give just a little normality and dignity back to people who have been to hell and back just to be here.
Maintaining a sense of humour is important during dark days; can you share with us any of your lighter moments as you adjusted to your new normal?
What’s next for you?
At the moment all my focus is on my knee amputation, everything is on hold until that…apart from my training. I want to be able to run on my prosthetic at every event I completed in last year in my wheelchair. There’s also plans for a 24 hour military style obstacle course in Sydney with my two brothers, but that will depend on my leg recovery.
Knowing Mark’s background in the Navy, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him his thoughts on leadership.
Being in the navy would give you an interesting view point on leadership, what are the most important traits that you think every leader should possess?
The best leaders aren’t the ones that sit there telling the team what to do; they are the ones that get out the front, get their hands dirty and inspire others to reach their true potential. Good leaders listen to advice and have confidence but not arrogance…it’s a fine line. Modesty and common sense go a long way!
You have chosen a career where teamwork is crucial, what do you think are the key ingredients of a winning team?
The old phrase “You are only as strong as your weakest link” is a great one. Surround yourself with a team that’s better than you and in return you will want to achieve greater things. Don’t be concerned with what everyone else is doing around you; learn from your mistakes and from those that have experience.
He’s on a journey to awesome!
There are a couple of people in my life who have inspired me, and Mark Daniels is now cemented on the list! I find his story inspirational;
14 months ago, Mark never would have imagined that he would lift the souls of so many
who choose to watch his journey unfold.
If you’d like to contact Mark personally, he’s only too happy to connect. Head over to the Team Mark page and engage!
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