Written by Dearbhla Gavin
We are all familiar with the phrase “you never appreciate something until it’s gone.” So often, we get hung up on the incidentals – getting stuck in traffic, running out of hot water in the shower – things that at the time stir up huge anxiety but when compared with other trials life can throw at us, they pale in significance.
Last night I went to the screening of “Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story.” Pollock, a competitive rower on the cusp of graduating from university, lost his sight when he was 22. Faced with a situation in which many of us would have given in, he refused to let this misfortune derail the life he was so actively living. 10 marathons in 10 years, from the searing heat in the Sahara to the freezing wilds of Antarctica, he continued to defy both medicine and expectation.
Mark was adorned everywhere he went, and when people stood in awe at his achievements he remained meek. And if he as a blind man could break through “limits” drawn by popular opinion, every able person would thereon know they have the potential to reach even their farthest goals. When Mark set up a motivational speaking company, he astounded everyone with his ability to find opportunity in his misfortune and to use his story as an inspiration for people to reach for the best version of themselves and disregard impossibility.
Then the seemingly impossible happened and he was dealt another blow.
One month before his wedding in 2010 he fell out of a three-story window and broke his back, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
As he lay in intensive care, slipping between reality and a dream state, he mulled on the life that lay ahead for him. Like any other spinal injury patient, he saw a life with definite limits.
Refusing to live under a veil of utopia, he opted to accept his circumstances, which he always believed to be the first step to any sort of progression. “You must let go of blame and self pity, acknowledge your situation and immediately look forward,” he said.
Mark refused to spend his life committed to a wheelchair. Refusing the status quo was the first step before science and technology caught up; and since 2010 he has been exploring the frontiers of recovery through aggressive physical therapy and robotics.
Driven partly by the statistics that in Ireland 75% of spinal injury patients never work again, in comparison with 20% in Switzerland, he decided that limits were socially constructed, and he refused to give up.
He has spent the last two years on a California program called Project Walk that aims to excite the nervous system through neuromodulation.
Counting on continued training on reconnecting the brain to the paralyzed parts of the body, Mark is hopeful that he will someday not only walk but again run.
So what does the immediate future hold for Mark? He endeavours to not only walk or run again by himself, but to remove the constructs enforced by society that losing your sight or limbs is a life sentence.
He is aware that this entails pushing altogether intellectual, geographical and organizational boundaries. Yet with help from explorers, designers and financiers, added to unrelenting interdisciplinary support and promising science breakthroughs, he is hopeful of what can be achieved.
When I left last night, I was feeling inspired and re-energized about life and the ability to lead it to the fullest. Mark is an extraordinary and yet topical example of our ethos at Horyou: Dream, Inspire, Act.
Refusing to bend under the weight of prejudice toward what he couldn’t do, he is showing that dream, support and action can turn problems into possibilities.
A truly remarkable man.