A few months ago, Mava Sports had the opportunity and honor to get in touch with Mary and Mark Black and learn more about them. They are a beautiful couple who one day decided it’s time they started living a purpose-driven life by doing what they love and what makes them happy and healthy.
They both contribute with articles on their Aging Youthful blog, sharing advice on not letting age determine how to live life! “If you think you’re old, you are.” - Mark Black.
We think that their goal of inspiring others not to let their age define them and to live a healthy, youthful, vibrant life is a great cause, and there should be more people out there just like them, to help guide others live their lives as they should. This is the reason why we got in touch with Mary and Mark and asked them if they would do an interview with us. They gladly accepted, and through their story we hope to motivate every one of you to start living your lives the way you should, without wasting a moment more!
Mary and Mark, can you tell us a bit about you?
We have been married for 27 years and have been through some pretty fun times. Mark had sled dogs for 36 years and together we had them from right after we got married until we decided to retire in the spring of 2011. We competitively raced the mid and long-distance race circuit mainly in the Upper Midwest. Mark ran the Iditarod twice (1996, 2002) and won the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in 2005.
The last 10 years of our sled dog career we did what others thought was “crazy” (like having 50 dogs in your front yard wasn’t?) and moved to our remote, rustic cabin in far Northeastern MN. What people thought was REALLY crazy is it is 10 miles from the power grid, 6 miles from the end of the plowed road in the winter and no running water (yep we lived with an outhouse). We lived by the light of lanterns at night for the first three years until we installed our own solar electrical system.
When did you both decide to draw a line and change your lives? What triggered that switch?
It was in 2009 when we went to Mark’s 30th high school reunion. At the time we were both a pack a day plus smokers, semi-heavy drinkers and were really feeling crappy overall. When we looked around at the others at the reunion and realized how old THEY looked, we realized how old WE must look too.
Over the years we had some health issues. I had Graves’ Disease, which, in the beginning stages, resulted with me going into congestive heart failure with an extremely overactive thyroid, which was thankfully caught in time. I also had two back surgeries in my late 20’s and early 30’s and Mark almost had back surgery in his late 30’s, but opted for 6 months of therapy first (- thankfully he got a second opinion and didn’t opt for fusion!).
A few weeks after the reunion we quit smoking for good and along with it, the heavy drinking, and decided to live a healthier lifestyle. We also started to eat better and get back into workouts, even with living “in the bush”, by getting our home gym out of storage and putting it in our unheated garage! A couple of years later we retired from sled dog racing. A month after retirement was when we were introduced to Isagenix - that's when we really started to notice a difference in how we looked, and most importantly, felt.
What were your lives before starting your health journey?
I think we pretty-much covered most of this, but will add that for 22 years we focused on the fitness and nutrition of our dogs and put them first, while sacrificing our own. Living off the grid and six miles from your vehicle in the winter was hard work. We were somewhat physically fit, as having an average of 50 dogs in your care is physical work. We hauled their water from our well – we eventually had a well drilled by our garage and not have to use a hand pump, but still had to haul it to the cabin! We had to carry around five gallon buckets of food and water numerous times a day, ran around hitching up dogs (good HIIT cardio!), not to mention the cutting, chopping and splitting of firewood as our main heat source.
On the inside we were a mess, not eating very well, and on the go all the time.
50 dogs! Do you still care for them?
No, we retired and sold out in the spring of 2011. We have an Australian Shepherd, Takum - who is like our kid and a cat, Buster who THINKS he's a dog.
Do you think that starting this health journey together had a strong impact on how things worked out? As opposed to each being on your own.
Yes! I was the first to start getting back into the gym and Mark was soon to follow once he could drive a vehicle into our cabin. We also set up a home gym in our garage so we could work out on weekends together without having to make the 2 hour round-trip drive to town. We've been married for 27 years, together for 30 and we've pretty much done just about everything together. Six months after we retired from racing, we purchased the local gym and worked out together for the two years we owned it.
How important is exercising for both of you?
Mary: I lost my motivation for a while when my thyroid meds quit working and I didn’t have ambition to do much. I started a yoga practice this winter which helped get me back into movement and later this spring started strength training again. I am studying for my group fitness certification (I had it during the time we owned our gym) and start teaching cardio, full-body interval and circuits twice a week in October.
Mark: It is very important for me. But when I don't have a goal I tend to let is slack a little. Once I'm in competition mode, it's all out. My motto is "lift to live, live to lift".
What kind of workouts are you into – weight lifting, cross training, classic gym workouts?
Mark is into weight lifting and Strongman preparation workouts. He works 12-hour rotating shifts driving a massive haul truck at an open pit gold mine, so he fits in his workouts as he can, usually hitting the Strongman gym at least once a week on his off days. He lifts hard and HEAVY.
Right now, I – Mary, am practicing yoga 2-4 times a week, lift weights hard and heavy (for me) 2-3 times a week. Mark has been nudging me to join him in the Strongman gym and competitions and we could be the 50+ Strongman Couple. (I’m JUST about ready.)
Mark, what do the Strongman preparation workouts consist of?
With my work schedule of rotating 12 hour shifts, I worked out almost every day off I had. From the time I was given the OK to head back to the gym after my appendectomy, until the week before the competition. At least once a week I'd workout at the Strongman gym focusing on the competition event lifts, and other days at a regular gym working on my supplemental-accessory lifts. Heavy and hard. :)
Are you following any diet?
Mark pretty much eats whatever he wants, but most of it is healthy. We both pack lunches and prep food twice a week. I try to keep sugar and simple carbs and out of my diet due to auto-immune issues.
We don't stress about it, Isagenix makes it easy for us to fill in the gaps – we prep food and enjoy our treats when we want. If I were to compete in another figure competition...that's another story.
How do you motivate yourselves to get in shape?
The biggest motivator for us was going to Marks 30th reunion when there were so many people who had changed so much. We were on the same path at that time and made the decision to change how we took care of ourselves: quit smoking, drink A LOT less, eat healthier and get into the gym. Having a goal helps, and so does knowing that not being there for a long time, when you do go back it hurts!
What word describes each of you best? Why is that?
Mark: Goal Driven – I need a goal to work toward to keep me motivated.
Mary: Motivator – I love to motivate others, lift them up to be the best they can be!
What made you want to inspire, motivate and empower others?
When I found Isagenix in 2011, my physical life was changed. Little did I know it would change ALL areas of my life a few months later. I had such great results that others were taking notice, and since I was referring so many people to the products, I thought I should go to some training to learn more about them. When I went to my first event to learn about their products, I was introduced to something greater: personal development.
While some of the trainers on the stage talked about the products, I was moved by the ones talking about being a better person, making an impact on others, and contributing to the lives of others, etc. It opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, doing and being. I left there desiring to be like the trainers on the stage, making a positive impact and helping others do the same.
Mary, please talk to us a bit about your FLY (First Love Yourself) workshop.
I knew this was a “big” year as it was the year I was turning 50. It was time to start following through with all the ideas I’ve had in my head but didn’t have the belief in myself to really go out and pursue them. As they say, if you need to learn something, TEACH it.
I created the “First Love Yourself” workshop community for women as we tend to be very hard on ourselves, believing we aren’t good enough, skinny enough, smart enough, rich enough, etc. The goal of the workshops is to have women realize they are not alone in their struggles of self-worth, give them a safe environment to share these struggles. I share with them tools to change their thoughts through nourishing their minds, bodies and souls (Just like in Aging Youthful).
What do you mean when you say women are perfectly imperfect?
We ALL have flaws, but we are perfect just the way we are. If we can love ourselves, flaws and all, we can create a vibration of love from within ourselves which will help us make any changes we want to have in our lives, bodies, careers, etc. “We attract what we are”, so if we want a positive life, we first must BE positive!
What is the feedback you get from the FLY Community?
I have received great feedback in addition to the energy feedback during the workshop. So many women want this, yet don't know how to get started or feel they are alone in their feelings. At the beginning of each workshop, during the introductions, I ask them to share why they came and what inspired them to sign up. I also set some agreements in the beginning to make sure they feel they are in a safe, supportive environment, and that what is shared there stays in the room. I've received private messages afterwards from women thanking me for changing their lives.
Mark, we’ve all seen this picture on your Facebook profile and we were amazed by it. Can you tell us a few words about competing in your first Strongman Competition?
Competing in my first Strongman Competition was something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years, when I was introduced to some of the events at a gym we went to in Florida. After retiring from racing sled dogs, I had been feeling somewhat “lost” in not having a goal to work toward.
I watched my first Competition in 2014 in Florida and knew it was something I really wanted to do. When we moved to Fairbanks last fall, I found a gym and a trainer that specializes in training athletes to compete – I then knew I was at home. I was supposed to compete in February but on the morning of the competition I woke up with a severe stomach ache and had my appendix removed instead! After the month-long recovery, I got myself back in the gym and trained for the local competition in June. I was the oldest competitor in the field at 55 years old, and the next “oldest” competitor was 15 years younger. While I was the only one in the Masters class, I had the fastest overall time (yep, even faster than the 20 and 30-year-old) in the truck pull, beating out my next closest competitor by 2 seconds!
Besides racing sled dogs and the Strongman Competition, have you participated in any other competitions?
I was a Golden Gloves Boxer for about five years in my early 20's. I also played football in high school and junior college. Of course, as mentioned before, I had sled dogs for 36 years with a couple year hiatus so I was training and competing with them for a good portion of my life.
Mark, what do you feel is your biggest workout related accomplishment?
At the Northside Classic in early July I was the oldest competitor at the event, with most of the competitors being in their 20's and 30's, and I pulled the semi the fastest! Also, when people see me working out, they can't believe I'm as old as I am!
What is a normal day in your lives?
There isn’t one. With Mark working shift-work, switching back and forth all the time, we don’t know what normal is! I have a somewhat normal work schedule, and I like to get my workouts and yoga in before work if I can. Mark prefers to workout mid-afternoon and will hit the Strongman gym at night when the trainer is there. If we have a day off together, we try to work out together so we can each have a spotter to work on PR’s.
What would you say to those who think they are pass the age of being able to become fit like they once or never were?
If you are above ground, you are not passed the age! Ernestine Shepard – the world’s oldest bodybuilder who is 83 – didn’t start working out until her 60’s. I’ve heard of others who have started working out in their 90’s! It’s all in your mind. Mark says “If you think you’re old, you’re gonna be old”.
“If you think you’re old, you’re gonna be old” – I definitely agree! So, Mark, how old do you think you are? :)
Depends on the day, LOL! But I don't focus on the number and not let it limit me on what I want to do.
Can you give our readers some words of wisdom?
Live each day like it’s your last!
One of Mark’s most favorite quotes from a movie: “Every man dies, but not every man really lives” – William Wallace in Braveheart. Mine would be “You are never too old to make a change”; find something that creates a lifestyle you can live with all the time. The same goes with working out. If you love yoga, do it. If you love Strongman, do it. If you love walking, do it. Just do something to move your body.
When it comes to nutrition, quit looking for a “diet” with a deadline. I coach people to find a lifestyle that works for you and practice the 80/20 rule when it comes to nutrition. Be “good” 80% of the time, and allow treats 20% of the time so you don’t feel deprived.