The morning of Jan. 27 started like most for Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School senior Mark Wilbourne: on his bicycle.
He had ridden to Blue Diamond Road at Red Rock Canyon National Conversation Area as part of his training for June’s Ironman triathlon in Colorado, which coincided with his upcoming high school graduation.
On his way back to his Summerlin-area home, he crashed into the back of an SUV parked on the shoulder on Charleston Boulevard. The impact dislocated Mark’s neck between the C6 and C7 vertebra and broke his C7 vertebra, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down, with limited use of his left and right arms and very limited use of his left hand.
Mark’s chances of walking again are slim, his parents said. He is 18.
“He’s had two surgeries,” said his mother, Tricia, adding, “Before he went into surgery, as the surgeon was about to put him under, Mark told the surgeon, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to have to register for the wheelchair Ironman now.’”
Up for a challenge
Mark is a “tremendous athlete,” said his father, John. He woke each day at 4:15 a.m. to either swim or bike before going to school, and after school, he ran or went to the gym to lift weights. He’s one of the top students in his class, John said.
“He doesn’t back down to anything,” Tricia said. “One of his goals when he started high school was to see how many AP classes he could take — how many honor societies he could be in.”
Mark ran the Dallas Marathon last year in 2 hours and 53 minutes and qualified for the Boston Marathon, John said. The only gift he wanted for high school graduation in June was to compete in Ironman.
As of Friday, there was a bed waiting for Mark at Craig Hospital in Denver. Mark’s surgeon recommended the rehab facility, which specializes in treating those with spinal cord injuries, to the family.
“It’s an aggressive, four-times-a-day rehab,” Tricia said. “We’ll do anything to get him back to being an athlete and student. We never discount a miracle, but we’re also realistic, and we are prepared for wherever this journey takes us.”
Tricia, who worked as a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Discovery Charter School, now plans to tend to Mark full time.
“I have a new purpose, and this is what we’re going to be doing,” Tricia said. “We’re going to do it right and what’s best for Mark. He’s a quiet fighter, and it’s been interesting to receive the flood of generosity and attention Mark has brought. He’s inspiring people, and he hasn’t even left the ICU.”
John, who works as a pilot for American Airlines, plans to take a few months off and later commute from Los Angeles, where his flights originate, to Denver.
As of Tuesday, Mark was being treated at University Medical Center. He was set to be transported Thursday to Denver via Angel Flight, a volunteer-staffed service that helps those in need.
John said he hopes Mark’s story will help others in similar situations.
“I think there’s great things in store for Mark,” John said. “Our attitude is, we’re going to take it one day at a time, one challenge at a time. We are surrounded by support, and that’s what’s going to get us through and set Mark up for success in whatever he wants to do.”
‘Hoping for a miracle’
Rob Novotny, a close family friend, created a GoFundMe page that raised over $100,000 in three days. The fundraising goal is $200,000. The money will help the family pay for travel, relocation to Denver and Mark’s future medical needs, according to Novotny.
“We knew the prognosis for Mark was going to warrant some significant out-of-pocket expenses,” Novotny said, “and we knew that this was going to be a curveball the family had to deal with, so … I asked for their permission to set this up. We started out sharing it on my Facebook; then Tricia shared and it exploded.
“We’re just hoping for a miracle.”
How to help
To donate to a fund for Mark Wilbourne’s family, click here.
About spinal cord injuries
Damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal often permanently alters strength, sensation and other functions below the site of the injury. Motor vehicle accidents account for about half of the nation’s spinal cord injuries each year.
Source: Mayo Clinic