Man Climbing a Mountain
Mo Bro MarkImage by: Mark Schattenberg
Man Climbing a Mountain
Man in T-Shirt on Mountain
1 November 2021

How Perseverance and Vulnerability Helped Restore My Sense of Purpose

5 minutes read time

The date was September 21st, 2020, and it was a phone call I’ll never forget having to make to my mom. Full of tears and out of breath, I remember saying, “Mom I’m in an ambulance, I’ve just been hit by a car and I’m on the way to the hospital.” The paramedic looked at me as I had forgotten to let her know my condition.“ Let her know you’re okay,” he said. I wasn’t okay or at least I didn’t feel great, and hastily lied saying, “I’m okay.”

My life was in shambles; my identity was gone in an instant. As an ultra-runner, I used my legs to express myself, running to the beat of my own drum. Now, in that moment, my identity was swept from underneath me by over two tons of steel and aluminum traveling roughly twice the speed of Usain Bolt, the fastest man on Earth. I was broken. My leg was broken too.

That was almost a year ago to the date, and the road hasn’t been easy. I’m now on the cusp of a second surgery to remove the hardware my surgeon left behind in my ankle. The rug of life was pulled from underneath my feet, and it was back to living with my parents on the other side of the country. This was devastating to my ego, as many years ago, I swore I would never go back home. My community back in Austin was next to none, my friends were all married, or those relationships I once had, drifted apart…the way time does to one another. Such little remained recognizable since leaving for college.

I was a wreck, and the pain was constant. My competitive running career was sliding through my fingers. Anger fueled me as much as alcohol numbed the pain from the surgery just weeks before. Running had been how I worked through the emotions I felt so deeply inside. It was how I worked through all my struggles in life. Now I had no clue how I was going to get through this because running was everything to me.

Earlier that year, COVID hit the states and Austin was shutdown. What little community I had left in Austin, after having to uproot myself from the other side of the country, wasn’t active. The Austin Beer Run Club was on hold, my friends were scattered, and I felt more alone than ever. I had to force myself into something and that something was going to be my recovery.

While in the hospital, I remembered the story about another runner that went through a similar situation – one I felt was relatable too now that I was broken. She had fallen 150 feet off a cliff while racing in the mountains. Her feet gave way, breaking fourteen bones as her body tumbled until she came to a stop. I remember what she said: “Recovery isn’t linear. Sometimes you make leaps and bounds in the name of forward progress, other times baby steps, and every once in a while, you take a step back and that’s okay.”

The year before, my legs had brought me to the finish line on Boylston Street at the Boston Marathon, and two months prior to the podium in a Montana Marathon. I had spent far too long and worked too hard to lose it all now. The idea that I had to rest was something I refused to accept. So I went to physical therapy four or five days a week, relentless – as I always have always been – burying myself in my work and letting it consume me.

During my time in Austin, I had more than enough time to self-reflect, explode, and then put myself back together again the next morning. I learned a lot about the struggles of coping and working through emotional moments. We all struggle with a sense of purpose, having to face our insecurities face on. I also saw friends in my life pulling feelings of self-worth to the foreground in their lives too, helping me notice that we all are struggling. We all have our scars from the past, both visible and invisible, and how we face them is the most important thing.

" There’s a lot to learn from being vulnerable.In the process of being vulnerable, we need to heal. "

Healing is a process. We need to trust in our friends and have some movement in our lives to help us heal. Still unable to run, I needed to do something different to build up not just myself, but my friends too. There was a mountain I remembered seeing and longing to climb deep in the Alaska range: Denali. In the native Alaskan Athabascan tongue, it means “high” and high it is. At 20,320 feet, it’s not just high, it’s monstrous and dwarfs any other mountain on the North American plate! Needing something big to look towards for healing, I now had a goal in sight and through friends discovered a cause to fight for.

Men’s mental health doesn’t just effect men, it affects us all. Discussing this with a friend, he reminded me of a foundation he had worked with in the past to help combat just this: Movember. Strong men help to create a strong community and we all need that. When a man is broken and struggling with self-worth, it effects his family, friends, and loved ones. I’ve seen and experienced it firsthand. Through Movember and by climbing Denali starting on May 1st, 2022, we (my brother and friends) are hoping to raise funds for men while tackling a hard climb. This is just the movement we need as men. One that will push a team of friends both mentally and physically, while supporting one another along the way. It is a perfect reflection of community, while doing hard things and asking hard questions, such as:

  • “How can we better support one another?”
  • “What can we do to help?”
  • “How are you doing today? Seriously bro, don’t lie. You’ll let me know if you’re not feeling great, right?”

I know deep down in my heart that through adversity we can show others what’s possible with a dose of hope against all odds.Being a brother to one another is the simplest way to prop each other up when asking those big questions. We all have our own Denali, and it takes a team working together to achieve those goals.

A huge thank you to those who were there for me and kept me company in my darkest times: My mother and father, Carl and Lauri Schattenberg; my brother who will be climbing Denali with me in May 2022, Paul Schattenberg; my friends that were there for me when I was sober or not…Josh, Andrew, Brandon, and Tyler. I love you guys!

Support Mark's efforts to raise funds and awareness for men's health with his Denali climb.