Canberra businessman, Mark Whithear, believes he has emerged from a 12-month health ordeal as a better person. It’s a fair statement, given the impact of Mark’s time and energy towards helping the youth of Canberra through his role as the initial major sponsor of Menslink, in setting up Surfers Against Suicide, and coaching junior sport.
To fully understand where he is today, it is worth revisiting the events of the past 12 months.
On 27 February 2018, Mark, an age-group triathlon champion, was on a routine training ride with a group of 15 other riders, around the Stromlo criterium circuit. Without warning, a kangaroo jumped across his pathway. The collision was horrific. Mark was left with six back fractures, two fractures of the skull and brain swelling.
He believes he would not have survived if not for the quick thinking of riding-mates, Susie Hoitink, Garry Mills and others, who responded immediately. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the actions of others, the best-case scenario would have been a lifetime in a wheelchair.
As it was, he was placed in an induced coma, spent time in ward 9B, which deals with neurosurgery patients at Canberra Hospital, then another two-and-a-half weeks at the Liverpool Brain Injury Clinic, followed by months of rehabilitation. Mark’s high fitness level proved to be decisive in his recovery with his body seemingly having a greater capacity to cope with the stresses of a major injury.
Significantly, Mark’s brother and sister put their lives on hold and flew to Canberra from Perth to help out as Mark recovered. Also decisive in his recovery process was the Canberra business and sporting community with literally hundreds of people coming to his house with messages of support, meals and help with logistics. This is a reflection of the role he has played in the lives of many in Canberra as a mentor for youth and as a long-term soccer coach.
Also vital in his recovery has been the support of wife Jo and their five boys aged between 10 and 26 years. His wife though, has understandably thwarted his attempts to place his cracked helmet on display as a reminder of his ordeal. He gets emotional when talking about the impact the accident has had on his wife, who was forced to confront the bleakest of outcomes before his body reacted positively to rehabilitation.
Mark wasn’t without his own personal struggles as he battled a range of emotions, from anger to a fear of the unknown, to eternal optimism.
The only downside for the 51-year-old director of Upmarket Homes, is the loss of his sense of smell; everything else it would appear has been restored. So much so that he has returned to competitive triathlons, with his comeback event a fortnight ago with the Proximity Triathlon. In that event, he won his age group by six minutes. The comeback race though, proved to be emotional, with tears before and after the event, upon realising his accomplishment.
Mark believes sport effectively saved his life both physically and emotionally. Ever the eternal optimist, he believes he is running better, and enjoying it more with a broader perspective on life. But underpinning his approach to sport is his determination and perseverance. These characteristics are evident in his work history as well as sport. Mark began his career as a trade assistant at a Queanbeyan window factory. This beginning provided a foundation upon which he has built to become a director of Upmarket Homes. And true to form, he has returned to work, better than ever.
As he reflects upon the journey over the past year, Mark remains uplifted by the support he received during his time of need. This seems to sustain and propel his already generous ethos. He now has an even greater desire to help others.