Meet Soon to Be Kidney Donor Athlete, Mark!

I had never thought about organ donation. Like some people, I knew of a close family member that had donated, in my case a Sister-In-Law that gave a kidney to a high school classmate years after they had graduated. That was about 10 years ago and I do remember that things went well for both parties.


Although very active in high school with the usual team sports of baseball, basketball, and football, the only real activity I had from the age of 25 to 45 was coaching my 3 sons in baseball and basketball with occasional long hikes, some canoeing, and walking around during deer hunting season in northern Wisconsin.

I have had a motorcycle since I was 16 so why would I bother riding a bicycle? That all changed around the age of 45. I was traveling a lot for work and decided I needed to do something besides hanging out in the gin joints while on the road so I started xc-skiing in the winter and rollerblading then biking in the summer, taking my gear with me when I traveled. I added canoeing and kayaking to my activities, as well. By the time I was in my 50’s I had xc-skied in several xc-ski races including the well-known Birkebeiner (Birkie) in northern Wisconsin.

Before I even considered my first Birkie I remember thinking how could anyone ski 30 miles! Last winter, at the age of 64, I raced in my 20th or so xc-ski ultra-marathon finishing the Tuscobia 160 miles in a little over 48 hrs. Then 4 weeks later raced the Arrowhead 135 pushing a kick-sled. I’ve also long-distance biked, finishing in over a dozen 100 mile plus winter fat-bike and mountain bike races over the past 10 years. Yes, I was a late bloomer.


In early 2020, while my wife and I were escaping the latter half of our Wisconsin winter as retirees in our travel trailer, we stopped in at a microbrewery in Louisiana on our way to Texas. We stop at a lot of them as we carry hop samples with us as a part-time job (yes, we get paid to drink beer!) and pass them out for a local Wisconsin farmer looking for buyers.
The brewer wasn’t in but we met one of the young owners and a financial backer who told us to come back the next day if we could around mid-afternoon to meet the brewer. Hey, we’re retired, what’s one more day?


As we are wont to do while at micro-breweries, we asked if we could “camp” in their parking lot overnight and they said sure. The next day, after a nice couple hour bike ride, I showered and went in to meet the brewer. After our “sales meeting” about hops, I struck up (or he struck it up, I can’t remember) a conversation with the guy a couple of bar stools away from me. As we were the only two people in the place beside the bartender and the brewer, who had gone in the back to check on his magic, it wasn’t all that striking of an idea, but it’s funny how small things can sometimes really change your life.


We kind of hit it off. Hugh is a very positive, happy guy and we just chatted about the affairs of the world.

Lynn came in and I introduced her to Hugh. A short time later Hugh finished his beverage and announced he had to go. I said “hey! I’ll buy you one more” (you’ve probably heard about drinking Wisconsinably?) but he politely declined. I said something like “you sure”? And he said he was and he shared that he had to go home to get hooked up for his nightly dialysis session.

Whoa!!! The next thing you know he was telling me about his need for a kidney as he was at Stage 5 renal failure and on dialysis for 10 hours every night.

Then the tables turned by me just saying without thinking “if you need a kidney, I’ll give you one of of mine” and Hugh replied with “you sure”?

I was, but I really had no idea what I had just gotten myself into. I felt that my body had served me well over the years and I was thinking about slowing down some anyway so why not share what I had left to help someone else? I was hoping I had a few good parts left in me.


After my commitment to give Hugh a kidney, I started to educate myself on kidney donations. It was about that time that I thought, hey! Why not ride my bike to Louisiana for the surgery? Then I started thinking….would I have to stop doing such nonsense due to having only one kidney? I started looking for active people on the internet that had donated a kidney and returned to their previous level of activity.


I typed in “kidney donor ultramarathon” and the name Tracey Hulick came up in the Runner’s World article about her donation. Try it!


I read about the many that did what I was planning to do in Kidney Donor Athletes, that is, to donate, heal, then return to their previous level of activity, whatever that might be.

The rest, as they say, is history.


Tracey connected me with Ned Brooks of Donor To Donor who informed me about voucher donation and my plan changed to have my surgery at the UW-Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.

After I read that 13 people die every day due to lack of kidney transplants I decided with Ned’s suggestion to ride from Wisconsin to Louisiana after surgery in Madison to prove it can be done to help others who had questions like I did.

The ride for kidney donor awareness from my home to Hugh’s home is called The Organ Trail. A Kidney Donation Journey. The ride is about sharing what my wife, Lynn, and I have learned about the need for living donors and how to become one.
The Facebook page that follows this journey is simply called The Organ Trail.

The first part of that ride took place on September 19th and 20th, 2020 when a small pack of bikers took off from our house in Plover, WI with my 11-year-old grandson, 6 (almost 7) year old granddaughter, and a friend’s 10-year-old daughter leading the way. People rode distances they were comfortable with on the 2 day 150-mile ride to the UW-Hospital in Madison, WI. where my surgery will take place.


The 2nd part of the ride will begin in the spring of 2021 when I’ll continue from Madison to Natchitoches, LA, the home of my voucher recipient, approximately 1500 miles following the Mississippi River, to celebrate my donation with my voucher recipient that will forever join us together.

The date for my donation surgery is September 30th. All I know at this point is that my kidney will be heading out of Wisconsin. Then Hugh can schedule his recipient surgery when a suitable match is found.

I’m starting to feel a bit nervous about the surgery in that I just hope things go smoothly. Things I don’t have any control over anymore. There are a lot of moving parts that start with a negative COVID test before anything else can begin.

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