Ex-Marine, double-amputee in town for Lobster SUP Cup
Camden — In town for the second annual Lobster SUP Cup Aug. 8-10, former Marine staff sergeant, double-amputee and extreme athlete Mark Zambon will be taking it easy, but will still help raise awareness and funds for Operation Rebound, a project of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) that works with injured military personnel and veterans.
He will be limiting his participation in the stand-up paddle board competition because of an upper arm injury that needs to heal before he delves into serious training for the 2016 Paralympic swim team.
Zambon was an explosive ordnance disposal technician – a bomb disposer – who served three tours of duty in Iraq and three in Afghanistan before an unseen bomb exploded and took both of his legs above the knee in January 2011, when he was 26.
He underwent rehabilitation at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Early on, he recalled, he was in a motorized wheelchair and had to figure out how to get into bed, an excruciating, multi-step process that able-bodied individuals simply take for granted. Facing the sometimes overwhelming challenge of recovering from his injuries and re-learning many simple tasks of daily life required him to push through both physical and psychic pain, he said.
“I refused to let myself accept my low level of ability.”
Since then, he has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with The Heroes Project, a nonprofit that sponsors climbs for wounded veterans, supports community service programs that serve them, and conducts media campaigns to publicize the needs of injured vets and successes in caring for veterans and their families.
Here is part of Zambon's entry about his decision to climb one of the world's highest mountains – more than 19,000 feet – from his website, markzambon.com:
“So I thought about it that night, I reflected on how limited my mobility was at the moment, on how horrible it was to go from being a capable, skilled 26-year-old guy to one who depends on all others, even strangers for basic daily activity and decided right then and there that the short-term suffering of training for an climbing an extreme-altitude mountain would be very vastly outweighed by the return in function and hope.”
When he ascended Kilimanjaro, he took the dog tags of two fellow bomb disposal techs who had been killed to bury at the top of the mountain. He said completing that climb redefined the meaning of his injury for him. He now saw it as an opportunity to show the power of human resilience, he said.
Zambon has also participated in the Dakar, a two-week, 5,600-mile rally raid – an off-road car race – through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, with another wounded Marine and a group of British veterans, most of whom had been wounded in combat as well.
He returned to active duty as an explosive ordnance disposal instructor, the first double-amputee to do so. However, he has recently retired from the Marines and moved from Florida to San Diego to train for the 2016 Paralympics.
He married his wife, Marta, a native of the Czech Republic, in August 2012. She is with him in Camden for the Lobster Sup Cup. In 2013, Zambon competed in Operation Rebound's San Diego Triathlon Challenge, doing the swimming portion as part of a three-man team.
Zambon practices hatha yoga, and credits it with helping him in his recovery. He enjoys stand-up paddle boarding, though he has not competed at it before, hiking, concerts and barbecuing. He also works with community groups and gives talks about his experiences.
Thor Emory co-founded the event with former Time correspondent Mark Benjamin because the two enjoyed competitive paddling and wanted to do a benefit, Emory said. Benjamin had covered veterans' affairs a lot, so an organization that helped injured service members take part in sports as a way to recover both physically and mentally – as Operation Rebound does – seemed like just the right cause.
Emory said he expects more than 40 competitors for the three-day event, including entrants from Hawaii, British Columbia and the Virgin Islands.
He said he hoped Zambon's presence and story would inspire people in the Midcoast to contribute directly to Operation Rebound through the CAF website at challengedathletes.org.
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.