By DANIELLE BANG
During homeroom on Friday, May 20, all juniors and seniors gathered into the gym for an annual assembly on sober prom. The area was full of chatter and noise until a man in a wheelchair rolled in. Slowly, the crowd settled into silence. The man’s name was Mark.
Mark told the students the heart wrenching story of how he became paralyzed from the neck down due to the actions of a drunk driver and his drunk friends. It all began when he and his friend were going on a bicycle trip from San Diego to San Francisco, then from Idaho to Canada. Mark was a normal, athletic 19-year-old; nothing bad seemed to be in place for him.
But everything changed on August 7, 1974. As he was bicycling at night near LA, a van driven by a drunk driver crashed into him from behind. The vehicle struck his legs and spine, effectively rendering him immobile and in excruciating pain, but still conscious. He desperately called out for his friend Mike, but there was no response. Mike had died.
During his extensive stay in the hospital, Mark had to go through therapy and surgery. Slowly, as if by miracle, he regained ability to move his legs. The doctors and his family were awestruck by the monumental milestone. He received a walker, and was required to take it wherever he went.
Unfortunately, his ability to walk did not last for long. One day, at a branch restaurant of Little Caesars Pizza, Mark tripped over the mat and fell down head-first. In that moment, Mark became permanently paralyzed from the neck down.
Several years passed, and Mark was able to get in contact with one of the passengers that was in the van that hit him and his friend. He described how the man cried and apologized, confessing the nightmares that plagued him constantly since the crash. Mark expressed gratitude at the fact that he was the victim in the situation, not the one who had caused an innocent man so much suffering.
His positive and open personality, as displayed through such an expression of gratitude, was apparent as he joked about some of the advantages he was able to have, such as not having to wait in line. He also joked about thinking of renting himself out to people who wanted the same benefits.
Although Mark has had to struggle through tremendous hardships in life, his faith has kept him going. When he was in such a critical condition that the doctors doubted that he would survive much longer, he kept praying, and he survived. On his website, he wrote: “While it’s been a challenging 40 years, God has spared my life and enables me to speak to countless people about choices they make.”
“There were multiple messages we wanted to give the students,” described Mr. Gerakos (P.E.), one of the teachers who organized the assembly. “Encourage students to make good choices, not only for Prom but in life, reinforce the “Think Twice, Be Safe” theme that the District has embraced since discontinuing the “Every 15 Minute Program”, to show what the results can be if people make poor choices and to let Mark serve as an example and inspiration to students on how real heroes deal with adversity.”