I can’t tell you how often I’ve been told that I need to tell the story of my Dad. It’s not that I don’t like talking about him, I just for whatever reason shy away from it. But the truth is there is no MAR without Mario. The further truth is there is also probably no MAR at all if he hadn’t passed away ten years ago.
Mario loved going to his gym. Yes he enjoyed lifting, but more than that he loved the community. My brother and I would scoff and whine as my dad took what seemed life forever saying hi to everyone before our workouts actually started. He was like this outside the gym too. Everywhere we went, there was someone that would run up to embrace my dad. There is a true story of us being in Hawaii and someone yelling “MARIO!” as we walked down the street. He just touched so many in a positive way.
In 2011 my dad my diagnosed with a stage 4 glioblastoma (brain tumor). The doctor wasn’t gentle with his timeline. He had a year to live. At this time he was the Chief of Police for a department on the Chicago northwest side. I had already been in the fitness industry for over a decade. I loved what I was doing, but his diagnosis would immediately flip my perspective.
There were so many emotions when he was diagnosed: anger, fear, and a reluctancy to believe this was our reality. But there was another: curiosity. Why? Why did he develop this? Was it avoidable? What could be done outside of the medical interventions he would of course need? I dove into the research, driven by my reluctancy to believe he would go through months of chemotherapy and surgeries just to end at the inevitable.
Unfortunately, the cancer was too aggressive. My father also wanted to live out his days the way he wanted to. He wanted to eat how he wanted to eat and do what he wanted to do. Selfishly, I’ll always hang on to the “what if”. What if he was willing to change more. Would we have gotten more quality time? Maybe, maybe not. He would pass away after an 18 month fight on August 11th, 2013.
There is no “positive” that comes with losing someone so close to you. However, you can choose to grow and learn from any hardship. My research surrounding my fathers diagnosis led me down the path of lifestyle health. I dug deeper into nutrition, sleep, and the many other modalities that can possibly prevent or decrease the odds of various diseases. Diseases like dementia, heart disease, diabetes, and cancers that affect so many. Exercise itself changed for me. Not that I didn’t appreciate all the health benefits before, but they were certainly magnified. How I spoke to propsective and current clients changed. Even if the goals were the same, there was such a different meaning behind the words.
Dad’s loss led me to quit the gym I was working at and seek out other opportunities. I started working for a gym in the Chicago Gold Coast that focused much more on quality of life. I was promoted to a team of trainers that worked collaboratively with each other to advise our clients on all aspects of health. I was blessed to have the best minds in health flown in to teach us advanced levels of fitness: famous psychologists, physiologists, rehab experts, and more. We’d get entire weekends learning from each of them over a 6 month span. It was an immersive program, one that surpassed anything I learned in my graduate school work (which was also extensive an amazing).
If was after years of working in that program, and some prompting from a friend, that I decided I was ready to bring my knowledge and experience to my own facility. I loved where I was working and the clients I was working with, but only certain people could afford these programs. I wanted to find a more affordable version for all. Because, health is for all, not just the highest financial brackets. And I wanted to honor my father in a different way.
Fast forward to October 7th, 2019, and MAR Health & Performance is open. Not just a place to workout, but, hopefully, a place where we express the value of lifestyle health in a way you may not yet value it. One year later covid would hit, and with the time I now had I would start the Lifestyle as Medicine Podcast. The only goal of my podcast is a way to bring free content and information to you. Again, health should not only be for those who can afford it.
Would MAR or the Podcast be be alive today if my father still was? I can honestly say I don’t think so. His death was such a jolt off course. How I viewed life changed. I saw both my grandmothers suffer from dementia prior to their passings, and now viewed it different. I watch both of my grandfathers suffer from cancers and various other ailments, and see more then just a current situation. I see the story that led them all to the current day. Are all diseases avoidable? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean how we accumulate our years won’t affect us. Some diseases ARE avoidable. Some are not, but we can have our body in a better position to fight them if they occur.
I’d like to think I would still be successfully in fitness if my father hadn’t passed away. But, since I can’t control that part, I do choose to be grateful for where his death brought me. He would be proud that his death led to me helping so many, and it is that thought that keeps me motivated every day.
If there is a lesson here, it is not to wait for life to punch you in the face before you start to value your health. Still come to the gym to lose weight and gain muscle and to love how you look, but realize there is so much more to exercise than just the aesthetic. And it all happens simultaneously when you do it right.
What does MAR mean? I can give you the fitness acronym: Movement, Assessment, Recovery. But it would be a partial lie. MAR is for Mario, and his spirit is a part of everything that happens in these walls.
Thank you for reading my father’s story. I hope he helps each and every one of you in some way.
Have a great rest of your week,
Mike, MAR Health & Performance