Optimist, Realist or Something Else?

It has been two weeks since my accident. I fractured the back of my head, my chest and torso seemed to be filled with blood and my back is broken in three places, I think, plus some ribs.
I don’t know why the fall let me away so lightly and I am still trying to work out how I am still alive. Now, two weeks on, I do not feel like I am in danger of dying. But the question of what I should feel is on my mind now…
For the past 10 years I have been helping companies to redefine how they approach challenges and take action to deal with them. I tell people to deal in facts,make it happen and build the right team around them for the job.
It worked when I went blind and it worked for the south pole, gobi desert and all my adventure races. But right now I am nervous about applying my own code to my current situation.
I have no feeling from my belly button to my toes. Right now I cannot even turn onto my side. I am flat on my back in the most specialised spinal unit in the world and I am surrounded by guys who are currently paralysed from either the neck, chest or waist down. I am better off than many of these guys and worse than some. But the question that I cannot answer is – am I one of these guys at all?
The first step for me in a crisis is to start dealing in facts. But I am struggling to work out what they are. are my legs temporarily asleep or am I just in denial? If I embrace and accept that my legs are not working then will I shut off the power of the mind to fix what we do not understand?
I read a book called ‘Good to Great by Jim Collins once. He spoke about the Stockdale principle in relation to long term p.o.w. Prison camps and how optimists were not the ones who survived. Realists did.
The reason was that the optimists kept thinking they would be free soon but they never faced the reality that they may never get out. As a result they were constantly disappointed and died in their cells many . But the realists dealt in facts. The reality of their current circumstances. They were the ones to survive.
I can deal in the reality of today. My legs don’t work, I am in hospital and the doctors cannot tell me if I will get any feeling back. This is the current reality.
What I do not know is should I be super positive and say I will make a full recovery or do I risk being a stockdale optimist?
Or do I start preparing myself for never walking again?
Where is the line between being realistic and giving up. I am going to fight this but I dont yet know what the fight is with. Operation, rehab, walking, wheelchair, north pole? I do know that I will eventually work it out. The only issue is time now…

25 Responses to “Optimist, Realist or Something Else?”

  1. 1 Simone July 18, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I love you. Simone

  2. 2 Bambi July 18, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Mark, it is lovely to hear your voice again, and in fact, lovely that it is ringing out loud and clear as always. No matter what has changed in the meantime, that has not.

    I think the term should be a realist and optimist. I’ve read many books about Holocaust and POW survivors, having a fascination about what it takes in a person to survive such conditions, both the physical and emotional and come out the other side.

    You are right that those who survived best in the short term were those who were realistic and in the moment. Buddhists would call it being mindful. What is happening is happening now, focus on that and not on what is to come.

    What was also clear was those who survived best in the long term were those who could reclaim their optimism. The realists survived the short term battle (ok not so short terms when it took years for liberty to come) but could only survive in the long term by blocking out the experience and moving ahead regardless and the past always caught up.

    The optimists tended to find the day to day battle the more difficult but could face the future after the battle was over with more joy and enthusiasm then the realists.

    So the happy medium is to face the battle as a realist but keep that optimist within reach for after the battle is done.

    I’m not sure who you are. Are you Mark who amazed us all with how you lived your life after blindness? Are you Mark who inspires? Are you Mark for what you give others, or what you give yourself? I don’t know. But I do know that you are more then the parts that give sight, or makes legs work, or feels the touch of a hand.

    I know! You are Mark. You are am optimistic realist.

  3. 3 Sarah Moriarty July 18, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Hi Mark – just read this and am really moved by your candour and honesty.
    Just want you to know that I’m thinking of you all the time as is everyone we know. Am dying to see you and come over to you at a moments notice when you feel like it, just say the word, if nothing more than to talk nonsense. We are overdue a banter exchange afterall!

    All my love & prayers
    Sarah xx

  4. 4 Louise Farr July 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Hi Mark,

    I’m so glad to see your blog update as I wanted to contact you and Mum told me you were moving hospitals. I just wanted to say that I think you’re amazing as always and with regards to making decisions about whether to be postive or realistic, I think you have to do what works for you in your own particular situation.

    Taking it day by day has always worked for me (sometimes minute by minute) and acceptance is also pretty handy. I don’t think it means lack of hope but perhaps acceptance of the current moment. I hope this doesn’t sound like the worst kind of touchy feely bullshit. I also think experience comes into it a lot and you’ve certainly faced more challenging and difficult times than most people. Those experiences will certainly be valuable for you now. What you’ve learnt from them and what helped you (or what didn’t help).

    Also worth a read – Melanie Reid writes a column for The Times (published on a Saturday). It’s called Spinal Column and it describes her life after breaking her neck and back in an accident in April 2009.

    I’m thinking of you and Simone and sending much love.

    Louise x

  5. 5 louise Farr July 18, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Weird! Where did that pic come from?

  6. 6 Louise Farr July 18, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    P.S. Bambi got in before me and referred to Mindfulness, which was basically what I was talking about. It’s good stuff, even if you’re not a Buddhist and much more effective than booze or fags.

  7. 9 kate marshall July 19, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Hi Mark,

    Good to see your blog. another indication of the kind of man you are. We are all thinking of you here and I have been talking to the guys in Anglo both Ireland and London and they all send their throughts and prayers to you. Never forget how many lives you have touched for even just an hour and the impression that has left. You have literally left your “Mark” on them

    I know we’ve touched on faith a couple of times in conversations and I believe in a God who can do miracles today, A god who gives wisdom, skills, and strength to people in need and those who help people in need. I will keep praying and believing that God will answer the prayers of many people who are praying for you. I am often reminded that while we may give up on God – He never gives up on us.

  8. 10 Michael Smith July 19, 2010 at 11:29 am


    You may recall we were in contact last year about the book I am writing on Ireland’s Polar explorers, which of course includes your great trek.

    My thoughts are with you at this moment.

    One of the great inspirations in my life has been writing and speaking about the explorer, Tom Crean. He showed extraordinary powers of survival and courage in dealing with great adversity. Reading your blog shows that you are a man with the same immense qualities and strengths and I am sure that the spirit of Tom Crean is among those who are rooting for you.

    All the best, mate.

    Michael Smith

  9. 11 Wendy McCullough July 19, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    I read your blog yesterday and have read and reread it many times now… You always have been an inspirational person and I am relieved to see you have not lost the drive and determination you have clearly demonstrated in the past. I read some of your blogs from the round Ireland race and you talked about the importance of teamwork… Well what a team you have around you now! Not only simone,your parents and emma… But the hundreds of friends and well wishers who are praying for you and the medical team in the best spinal unit in the UK.
    Time is clichéd as a healer… Time will tell what parts of you recover fully but one thing is certain… Nothing will hold you back
    My thoughts are with you and your team… I look forward to your next blog
    Wendy x

  10. 12 John Ferguson July 19, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Hi Mark, Ross Fergusons brother John here. I just had a similar experience with one of my best mates about a month ago. We were Downhill mountain bike racing up at Fortwilliam and my friend was taking the track too fast (as he does). Needless to say one accident later he had come off, smashed his helmet to smithereens, broken his back (T5 or T56? had parts broken). The RAF had to airlift him from the most remote part of Aunush Mor to A&E and then he was airlifted again to specialist Spinal Unit in Scotland. That was 6 weeks ago, hes just started getting about now and hes being let out this wkn.

    Needless to say his life is going to be different for a while now, I think its just hard adjusting to the potential reality whilst being unable to move properly.Its just going to take a lot of time, patience and hard work fella. But it sounds like you got those qualities in abundance. I just wanted to write and let you know you arent alone in your struggle. Honestly when we found out he broke his back we proper shitted it. But he is making real progress as will you.

    Keep updating and let us know what happens. And most of all keep pushing.

    Not sure when Im going to get on a bike next though, never mind him!

    Love form all the fergusons

  11. 13 Hannah White July 20, 2010 at 9:24 am

    Mark, you recently kicked my arse in the Round Ireland race, i was racing on Dinah with Barry Hurley…
    I was actually really disappointed that i did not get to say hi to you and mick before i left, as i thought about you lots on that race, and i wanted to say just what an inspiration you are. In a generation of wannabe fame-seekers, what is so inspirational about you, is that you just bloody well get on with it, in an unassuming and humble way.
    I was so shocked to hear about your accident, and having never met you find it hard to really offer any words of support, but all i can say is that this will be a challenge, no doubt, physical and mental, but you have already proved that this is where your colour’s shine through. I have no doubt that you will tackle this monster challenge with the grace and courage you have shown throughout your life and the other challenges you have faced.
    If you would like a visitor, or someone to throw a bucket of salt water at you to remind you what life is like at sea. i will be there in a flash.

    Your a fighter, and this is just another fight.
    With all the very best wishes,

    Hannah, a fellow sailor, adventurer and a fan!

  12. 14 Debbie Cave July 20, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Dear Mark

    Debbie Cave here. I don’t know you beyond fabulous ‘HRR Friday’s’, but undoubtedly you will know me as one of the Friday Hareem! Having seen you indeed on the Friday of your accident, I was beyond shock to hear what had happened from Steve Kerrin and JJ. I wanted to write to you and JJ told me last night about your blog so hoping this works.
    Your blog update was very heartfelt and indeed brought tears to my eyes. It was so eloquently written and am just so, so sorry to hear about the full extent of your injuries. I can not begin to comprehend how you must be feeling or indeed coming to terms with what has happened, but I know from your immense ‘joie de vivre’ and positive outlook, you will find a way to get through this and take on any obstacles as a fresh challenge – challenges I am confident you will find a way to overcome. It may be a slow journey, but from what I have seen myself, you have some fabulous, loyal and hugely concerned friends (yes, I have decided they do have one or two redeeming features!), who I know will help you get through this. I understand too you are engaged and your fiancee and family are also with you in hospital, so I am sure it is a wonderful comfort to be surrounded by such love and support. I would like you to pass on my best wishes to your fiancee and family who, like you, have been very much in my thoughts over the past few weeks. I will pass the blog details onto Helena, Alison and Wendy, who I know will join me in wishing you lots of love and we pray, in time, a full recovery. Here’s to celebrating your recovery at Henley next year in style – absolutely no ambulances allowed next year! Try and keep your spirits high and I look forward to the next blog update. With best wishes Debbie xx

  13. 15 Pascale Claes July 20, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Hello Mark,

    Just wanted to let you know that I have been thinking of you ever since I heard of your accident. Sending you loads and loads of positive thoughts and good vibes 😉

    Pascale (from Kanchi SB)

  14. 16 Alison Smith July 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Hi Mark,
    As Debbie mentioned, she alerted us to your accident but we had no idea on the severity until your recent update. I am so, so sorry, Mark – it seems incredible that you are having to face this after the challenges you have faced and conquered over the past few years. However, even those such as myself who have met you only fleetingly have found your strength of character quite astonishing. I suspect this will help you deal with your current situation just you have in the past – making and enjoying the best of life, whatever the circumstance.

    I’ll be following your progress with mucho crossing of fingers and all other positive vibey activities, we all will. With love and best wishes, Alison.

  15. 17 Andy & Emma Johnston July 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Mark just to let you know we are both thinking of you.

    Andy & Emma

  16. 18 Laura Reineke July 25, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Wow Mark, you really are quite something. You have rendered me speechless. Are you up for visitors? Mum, Dad & I would love to come and see you.

  17. 19 Brendan dolan July 26, 2010 at 12:33 am

    have just now heard of your accident., if you got through me driving you to ryans from trinity boat house you can make it through anything.!! You are a hero to my kids, and an inspiration to everyone. You are in the first 500, still 1500 to go, you’ll hit the finish first.
    With best wishes
    Brendan dolan

  18. 20 Joshue O Connor July 26, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Hi Mark,

    I read about your shocking accident when in London a few weeks ago. Just to let you know I am rooting for you.


  19. 21 Sarah Winckless August 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Dear Mark – Optimism, Resilience and Courage, you have it in bucket loads. Good luck over the next few days.


  20. 22 Louise Colclough August 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Hi Mark,
    It is a very long time since we met, both of us starting our careers in IAWS many moons ago – I used to arrange the Sports & Social nights out (very important aspect of my job!!)
    and we certainly had plenty of fun.
    Anyway I opened the Metro paper one morning a few weeks ago on my way to work and was so sad to read about your accident.
    I have been following all of your great achievements in the past few years and have been astounded by your many feats and adventures.
    I came across your blog and just wanted to drop you a note to say that you, your fiancee, family & friends are all in my thoughts and prayers at this challenging time.

    I really do hope you can make a full recovery but if the reality is different then I pray you will find the strength to deal with that too.
    Looking forward to hearing how you are doing on your blog.

    All the very best,

    Louise Colclough

  21. 23 Daire Dunne August 4, 2010 at 11:39 am


    A blast from the distant past in TCD. I’ve been an avid follower of your adventures from afar (Singapore) and want you to know that the web of people rooting for you is very very wide – Best wishes, Daire.

  22. 24 kate September 7, 2010 at 12:31 am

    I was amazed by your sheer gutsy attitude walking across all that freezing the ice, to the south pole in – 50.
    I have learned a thing or two from you. “THANK YOU.”
    I was so shocked to then hear at the end of the documentary about your accident….
    you are right ,its important to recognise your friends and the important people in your life…
    I wish you well and a good recovery ….. I feel you still be as gutsy as you have always been,you will continue to amaze and inspire …… and you have inspired me to at least climb to the top of carrontuohil,which i see every day…..
    Thanks Mark, your pretty amazing.

  23. 25 Conor Neill November 1, 2010 at 11:05 am

    Each small step will take you one step closer to health. Victor Frankl said that 1 in 30 survived the concentration camps – but it was not random. Those that survived, they survived because they had to survive in order to help others – a loved one, to share a message with humanity, to share their experience so that others could learn without passing through the same. A friend told me at a difficult moment in life “God would only give you an obstacle he knows you are capable of overcoming”. I don’t know why these things happen, but I do know that you are sharing and helping others. Thank you.

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