UP TO THE EDGE AND OVER: A Tribute To My Friend Mark Williams #70

Mark Williams In April 1975

Mark Williams In April 1975

There is a you tube video of # 70, Mark Williams racing at San Jose, CA-He is in the 1st and 4th race and about halfway through the video you can clearly see # 70 come around the corner into the camera twice. It is also the same track that he broke his back at. Here is the address:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC6trfdDIyc

I doubt there are very many people my age that don’t remember the lines from “Brian’s Song” that begin the movie which is a quote from Ernest Hemingway, “that every true story ends in death. Well, this is a true story.” Well this quote wasn’t exactly accurate because this is actually what Ernest Hemingway wrote in Chapter 11 of his 1932 novel, “Death in the Afternoon,” “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true story teller who would keep that from you.” Well that is a very true statement but not nearly as dramatic as the interpretation of it that was in the movie “Brian’s Song”. I always knew that my friendship with Mark Williams would end in his dying before me, if it was to be of natural causes, which is what happened, his body gave out after 36 years of being paralyzed from the waist down. But this was in addition to the 25 years he lived before the accident that claimed the use of his legs, this brave man who lived life on his own terms to its bitter end at 61 years of age, despite, or perhaps because of, doctors telling him that people who sustained the type of injuries he had only had a likelihood of living five years. Well, instead of depressing him and giving up, it really pissed him off that they told him that and he proceeded to live another 36 years just so he could tell them they were freaking wrong!

Mark Allen Williams died at 61 years of age after having lived a very full life, one that was full before the accident he had that paralyzed him from the waist down at the age of 25. Mark was born on January 14, 1951 and by the age of 15 he was a professional flat track motorcycle racer and a year later he was earning around $24,000. He was nationally ranked at the age of 19 and he became a “national number” in 1970. He made a lot of money and he lived life large and in the fast lane. He bought a house with an in ground swimming pool and got married.

Mark Williams Swimming Pool

He continued on making a name for himself in the world of AMA racing and he attained the official position of number one in the nation in April of 1975, at the age of 25, and appeared on the cover of AMA magazine. In September of 1975 he was running a practice lap for the one-mile National Dirt Track Championships in San Jose, California, when he hit a wet spot on the track while traveling at a speed of around 125 miles per hour on the recently watered dirt track. He started to slide and all he remembered was trying to get away from the motorcycle. He didn’t get away from the motorcycle and he ended up smashing into a wall. The wreck broke his back in several places and he all he remembered after he started to wreck was being in the ambulance and someone telling the driver that they better hurry if he was going to make it to the hospital alive. After spending a month in a San Jose hospital and another month in a Portland, Oregon rehabilitation center he was out of the hospital to try and learn how to live being paralyzed from the waist down. He pushed his wife away and since he had money he set out to try and find a “cure”. He went to the Philippines tried “faith healers”, the ones that are supposed to be able to put their bare hands inside your body, he was desperate to not be paralyzed but all of his searching for a cure was to come to his having to deal with the fact that he was never ever going to walk again. He then started what would be his string of interests for the next 31 years, buying and riding anything that could go fast. The first thing he bought was a racing sailboat, which is something he was doing when I first met him and when he invited me to go on that boat with our mutual friends I fell in love with sailing and Mark and I started a beautiful friendship that lasted until he died.

Mark's J24Sailboat

Mark’s J24Sailboat

He also took up riding snowmobiles and even though he couldn’t through use his legs to throw his snowmobile around to guide around the corners at a hundred miles an hour he had impressive upper body strength and his natural racing ability from motorcycles allowed him to leave able bodied people behind him in his wake. I went riding behind him one time and it scared me to ride blind around the corners of the trails through the woods at the speed of 90 miles per hour which is what he called taking it easy because I was sitting on the snowmobile behind him. I passed on doing that again, once was enough, but Mark continued to ride snowmobiles for twenty years. He also took up Kart racing, riding four wheelers through the woods and at the beach, if it had a motor and Mark could ride it he did and he continued living a full and busy life for the 31 years after he was paralyzed.  Living that long after becoming paralyzed was something doctors constantly told him wouldn’t happen and that he should only expect to live 5 to 10 years after having that life changing wreck.  The fact that those doctors kept telling him that “really pissed him off” and if it is possible I think that he lived to be 61 years old was to prove them wrong because he thought that their telling him he was going to die was a really crappy thing for a doctor to do, and I agree with him!

I have a million memories of the life and times we spent together and because I think his life and indomitable spirit to continue to live life in the “fast” lane even after he crashed and burned should be an inspiration to everyone to not give up just because you are told you should.  Mark told me stories about his life before the accident as a teenager who loved to ride his motorcycle way too fast in the little town he was born in and onto many stories of life being a young professional athlete that spent a lot of time on the road.

I am writing this story about Mark so I can document his inspirational life for others as well as so I can enjoy reliving the experiences I had with him in the retelling of the great adventures as well as the everyday life of one of the best friends I will ever have.

His death has created a very large gap in my life that will never be fully filled because we spent an average of four days a week together for a minimum of a couple of hours and frequently the whole day doing fun things like swimming in his pool with friends, playing board games with those friends all evening long, sailing on his sailboat, we would go for drives in the car and go to car shows, he bought a drift boat to go fishing in the rivers, he bought a jet boat to go fishing in the ocean and to go fast on the lake.  We became very good friends, through good times and bad ones and through thick and thin, from almost the very day we first met and that never changed until he died.  Maybe by accident or some kind of grand design I am not privy to, the 21st of January is a date which several events in my life have occurred on.  My father was born on that day in 1925 and he died thirty five years later on January 20th, just one day short of his 35th birthday in a plane crash.  My sister’s youngest son was born on his grandfather’s birthday, January 21, in the year 1989.  Just coincidence but I have wondered if it is a “cosmic” coincidence though that is not what I am writing about.

Back to remembering my friend Mark and the very full and busy life he led.  The reason I call this piece up to the edge and over is because that is how he lived his life. It is also how he taught me to ride an ATV at the sand dunes one afternoon, he paid for an afternoon for the two of us to go the coast and ride on the dunes as a birthday present to me and also as a way to go do something he enjoyed doing also, seems like a good way to go to me and Mark did invite friends to go do things with him and he would buy just so he could buy himself a good time since he couldn’t do those things by himself once he was in a wheelchair. It really was a win-win because Mark had money that he knew he would not live long enough to run out of and most people didn’t have enough money to indulge in the kinds of toys Mark loved to play on, fast boats, cars, snowmobiles and pretty much anything else with a motor. I had never ridden a motorized item with hand controls ever before we went to the Oregon dunes to ride them. We stopped at the little office and parking lot the company had right near the dunes and signed our “waiver” and showed them our drivers’ licenses and then we were off riding the two blocks from the rental office to the bottom of the miles of sand dunes we were about to ride on. When we got to the start of the dunes and I looked up at the approximately 20’ immediate climb from the parking lot I was very intimidated. Mark was first, of course, and he started roaring up and his ATV sputtered and he came back down and told me that we needed to go back to the office and have them bring another ATV out for him to ride. So we rode the two blocks back and I was starting to get the hang of operating the hand controls for the gas much better than when I started out. We were told they needed to go to where they kept the rest of the ATV’s and pick up another one and it would take about 30 to 40 minutes so since it was about 11:30 by now we were hungry so we went to a little restaurant and bar about 5 minutes away to get something to eat and have a cocktail. We had some great clam chowder and I had a Bloody Mary, Mark had a Crown Royal and 7-Up (the only drink he liked other than a strawberry daiquiri by his swimming pool in the summer) and then went back to ride the ATV’s again. After having ridden the little bit I had already done, and after having one drink of liquid courage, I was way more confident driving down the road to the mighty dunes and when Mark took his ATV up the dunes I followed him and much to my surprise it was much easier than I had feared earlier. After we got to the top of the dunes Mark very seriously explained safety tips to me, and the one that was the most important was the one that inspired the title of this story. He told me to ride up to the edge of the dunes, stop and look at what is down the other side and then proceed on. This was his approach to most “obstacles” he faced in his life.  There are many fun stories about Mark I wish to share eventually but for now I am just now coming to terms with his presence I miss so much being gone from my life and want to share with others who didn’t know him some the indomitable spirit in which he faced going from a life of riding on a motorcycle as a professional racer riding at speeds over a hundred miles an hour to being a young man forced to live life on the 4 little tires on a wheelchair that didn’t go fast enough for his taste and doing so with an unbreakable thrill seeking attitude and virtually never feeling sorry for himself and to quote from Brian’s Song “How he did live!”.  Here’s to you my dear friend, may you forever ride fast wherever you may now be roaming!

Mark Williams walking San Jose Track

Mark Williams walking San Jose Track before he wrecked on the track!

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3 thoughts on “UP TO THE EDGE AND OVER: A Tribute To My Friend Mark Williams #70

  1. Hi Michele,
    I really enjoyed reading about Mark and hope to hear lots more! Mark and I dated for a short while in 1970. I was walking home from high school one day and Mark stopped and asked me if i wanted a ride. I was 16 at the time and I think he was 19. I knew my parents would kill me, but he was sooo cute and he had that beautiful black Mach I, so I got in! We dated for a few exciting months. One of my greatest memories of Mark was him driving the Mach I as fast as it would go on the logging road by Cottage Grove lake. Every time I hear the any song from the Beatles “Abbey Road”, I think of Mark. He had the sexiest smile of any man I have ever known!
    I’ve been living in Tucson, Arizona since 1974, and unfortunately I never saw Mark after the accident. I was so happy to hear he lived such a full life, although very difficult I’m sure. Best of luck on your book. I know it will be a beautiful tribute to a remarkable man!

    Sincerely,
    Alma (Woody) Bidegain

  2. Very nice, he was my friend too.My dad and his dad Frank were racing buddies,and so was Mark and me. I have his race bike on display in Tigard Or.He is missed.
    Regards,Steve.

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