Miracle Monday: Mark Wells

Miracle Monday

I feel like I say this every single week, but... holy cow, am I excited about this one. Like, Peter Norman excited. His is a story that'll make you really sad, and then really happy, and then rinse and repeat a time or two. It's kind of amazing (and crazy bittersweet. But amazing). If absolutely nothing else, I'm so grateful to The Boys of Winter for doing its due diligence with this one. So buckle in, folks. This is going to be quite the roller coaster. (And when you're done reading this, go read about Peter Norman for god's sake!)
Mark Wells


+ Mark Wells was a little kid. He only ever ended up growing to be 5'8", which is tiny for a hockey player, and even tinier when he was growing up. He was perpetually underestimated as an athlete (I feel you, fellow short person!) and constantly had to prove himself to everyone. But not only was he a great hockey player, he was equally as skilled with a baseball bat. When he was 10 he entered a national Pitch, Hit, and Run competition and was laughed at by his competitors for being so small... but he made it to the final round at Yankee Stadium and finished second in the nation, behind a kid named Orel Hershiser. (Orel actually ended up attending Bowling Green, just like Mark and Ken Morrow, and went on to have a storied baseball career with the Los Angeles Dodgers. So, y'know, losing to him ain't so bad.) Even in college, Mark found himself underestimated, as he started his freshman year at Bowling Green without a full scholarship. However, he finished the season as the team's rookie of the year, and when his college career was all said and done he averaged 1.5 points per game.

+ Mark's journey to the Olympics was not an easy one, to say the least; he was the 20th and final man added to the roster. Four months before the Olympics he fractured his ankle, and Herb told him he didn't think Mark could make the team, so he sent him down to the International Hockey League (where Herb basically kept players he may or may not want). This, obviously, didn't sit well with Mark, who literally spit at Herb's feet and told him he'd be back on the Olympic team. He played several months in the IHL and, literally right before the Olympics, Herb put him back on the roster. Mark had been called to meet the team in Detroit and didn't even have a change of clothes with him, so he got stuff to wear from one of the Olympic sponsors in Lake Placid.

+ Part of Herb's hesitation in putting Mark on the Olympic team was his stubbornness. He was incredibly headstrong and could get easily frustrated, which made him a really difficult guy to coach. He kind of had a knack for ticking Herb off, and Herb wasn't totally sold on adding someone to the team who might not fit. But Mark was a fast skater, a sturdy player who had a knack for scoring goals, and Herb ultimately loved his grit. During the Olympics, he put Mark on the fourth line with the sole job of being a defensive center and shutting people down. Against the Soviets he was assigned to get in Valeri Kharlamov's way, and just all around bother them during the last 10 minutes of play. And he did his job, and also walked out of the Olympics with two goals and an assist.

+ The Montreal Canadiens had drafted Mark in 1977, and he turned pro after the Olympics. But after two years of playing in the minors, he decided he'd had enough and retired. So he went back to Michigan and got into the restaurant business. In 1989, he was unloading some crates from a truck when he cracked a vertebra in his back. Even worse, x-rays showed that he also had a degenerative disk disease that left bone rubbing on bone, and only because of his strength had it not been an issue for him before. This was the beginning of a really long, really dark time in Mark's life. He underwent numerous back surgeries, had very limited mobility (and had to rely on a walker and a bed pan for a period of time), became reliant on morphine for the pain, and regularly had suicidal thoughts. He was, essentially, crippled, and had to sell his gold medal to offset his medical expenses. He says that the only thing that kept him alive was feeding the geese outside his mother's house, because it meant that he was needed.

+ In 2001, Mark was so desperate to not be in pain anymore that he had another surgery, this one a laser procedure that "aimed to lessen the pain by burning the nerves in the lower back." And HEY, it worked! He still might not be pain free forever, and he still moves stiffly, but suddenly Mark Wells was able to have a life again. He went back to college to get a business degree, helped his 1980 teammates light the torch at the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games (and was even able to skate in their exhibition reunion game!), is married and has three young kids (!!!!!), is apparently in the process of writing an autobiography (um, yes, sign me up!), and was honored by his hometown rink, which is now named the Mark Wells Arena.

Are you emotional yet? Because I am. Basically, I wish Mark nothing but sunshine and rainbows for the rest of his life. :)

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