Mark McCarthy is a lifelong athlete, starting with wrestling in fourth grade and receiving a wrestling scholarship to college. He stayed on as a graduate assistant and helped coach a team that won the Nationals until he was 24 and never saw himself sitting in an office for the rest of his life. He went on to play professional racquetball during its peak years, 1976-1983, and after double hip replacement at 53, in 2001, he took up cycling and has since won over 200 road races, hill climbs, crits, time trials, and gran fondos. He holds age group records in seven Northeast hill climbs and will participate in the National Gravel Championships on May 13th in Virginia, covering 100 miles with 6,000+ feet of climbing (he won his age group and the age group younger).
But Mark's love for sports and teaching others goes beyond just cycling. With four college degrees, he has taught racquetball, wrestling, tennis, and business (small business administration and entrepreneurship)at the high school and junior college levels. He is a natural teacher who loves to share his knowledge and experience with others. Despite facing various challenges, Mark has always persevered and never let anything intimidate him. While coaching wrestling in college in 1972, he tried out for the Olympics and came close to making the team.
Sports Sponsorship Starting Point
Despite not making the Olympic team, his passion for sports never wavered. He took up the up-and-coming sport at the time - racquetball. He quickly became the pro at a local club. When the third-best racquetball player at the time was on a tour of clubs to sponsor the sport, he lost to him in a close 3-game match.
“Nothing really intimidated me at that time, and to be honest, nothing really ever has.”
The visiting champion was impressed by Mark’s skill, and he said, "You can play on the tour," and the next day, Mark received a fax from Nike and Wilson and immediately signed with them.
“I played on the tour for 7 years through their sponsorship until I retired and bought my own club.”
At the time, no one had really heard of Nike, and Mark promoted them as he traveled at events, local malls, and other sports gathering spots.
Mark remained passionate about sports, but his body took a toll. At 52, he underwent a double hip replacement surgery, his doctor warned him that he was too active, but Mark refused to let that stop him. His doctor told him he could swim or bike, and he took up cycling and has never looked back.
“The third year after I got a bike, I won the New York State Masters Championships. Once I got into cycling, I realized that I already had most of this sport down from past individual sports I had played. I knew the importance of training, nutrition, stretching, yoga, knowing how to train, and being mentally calm and tough. I just had to get racing legs and learn the tactics to really excel.”
Mark has mastered the art of preparing himself physically, mentally, and emotionally for races and competing at his best. He continued to have great success. In his first senior games, he set the 10k time record. He’s also won the 20k road race and got 3rd in the 40K after being boxed out at the finish.
“About seven years ago, Trek, the bicycle company, signed me to a semi-pro Cat 1 contract. They said they had never sponsored anyone close to my age at the time, but I was winning over 200 cycling championships at the time, and I was a great ambassador for the sport and would talk to newbies at races and never became enamored or standoffish about my successes."
Plus, Mark is well known as a good ambassador for cycling. As a sports ambassador for most of his life, he perfectly aligned with Trek’s needs - even if it required them to push the boundaries of their prior image of top athletes.
Mark might have thought his sponsorship ended with Trek, but at 74, GetSetUp saw his success and reached out to him.
“I'm 74 years old, and when someone reaches out and says, ‘Hey, we want to sponsor you.’ - I think it's an honor. Obviously, monetary funding helps a lot, but I have mentioned my sponsor to a couple of people and my daughters, and people think that it is so cool.”
Sponsoring more diverse athletes is clearly inspiring not only to athletes of similar ages but also to the younger generation, who appreciate seeing athletic prowess celebrated at all ages.
The Upcoming Senior Games
Mark is currently training for the National Senior Games in early July in Pittsburgh, where he will compete in all four cycling events. He has already won time trials and road races in previous games, and he hopes to finish in the top 3 in all the events even though he'll be the oldest in his age group of 70-74. When he's not training, he stays busy running a home improvement company and restoring his 1875 house.
“I haven’t had a mentor. I’ve done most of my training on my own. For some reason, it's in my genetics. I just "do it" without very consciously thinking about it. Picasso painted into his 90s, and people asked why still did it, and he responded that it's what he does, it's his passion, and he was born to do it like I was born to be a lifetime athlete. Some people play sports to win, but for me, I play to be the best I can be. I think sports are the most powerful tool to help people be the best they can be and keep them on a very healthy lifestyle journey through life.
Thanks to GetSetUp’s statewide partnerships with the New York State Office for the Aging, Mark and all New Yorkers ages 60+ can enjoy GetSetUp classes at no additional charge.
GetSetUp is sponsoring GetSetUp Athletes as an initiative designed to inspire and support older athletes by providing them with sponsorship and a platform to promote their passion for sports in order to empower their peers. GetSetUp Athletes are sponsored by GetSetUp, and each athlete will receive a $1000 stipend to help with their training and competition expenses, along with a full GetSetUp branded kit for their sport. These athletes will be sharing their journeys and insights with the GetSetUp community as they promote healthy and active lifestyles.