By Mike Schwartz, Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta supporter
My name is Mike Schwartz. And I skate with heart.
That’s not just a play on words, it’s a mantra I’ve lived my whole life. I am an aspiring Canadian Olympic athlete. I compete in Long Track Speed Skating. That’s right, human Nascar. Left turns all day. I am an athlete that goes in circles. Outside of that, I’m a Personal Trainer with specialization in sports performance, mobility and holistic lifestyle care. Generally speaking, I am pretty straight-forward. I’m just a normal dude on the outside.
I first got in touch with Ronald McDonald House because it was an easy point of contact to house my story. Now, for those that don’t know my story – I’ll give you a little bit of the inside. I was born with a congenital heart defect. Simply put, I was born with a hole in my heart.
My surgeon, Dr. Patricia Penkoske, performed what is known as the Senning procedure in 1987, up in Edmonton, AB– she took the primary functions of the heart and reversed them, so my right side actually pumps all of that healthy blood to the rest of my body, where-as on a “normal” dude, the left side would take on that responsibility. This may not sound too crazy, but when you take a closer look at the anatomy of the heart, you’ll notice that the right side is typically smaller. That said, my heart had to grow in order to keep up. It had to work harder than the next guy. Kinda like how I grew up.
Born and raised just outside Calgary on a quarter section acreage, a typical farm boy I am. Not afraid of getting dirty – be it out cleaning dog runs or filling the granary with my pops, pounding fence posts, shoveling manure, moving crates upon crates of dozens of pheasants, chasing llamas, herding cattle. I was raised with a motive to earn my keep and I’m very thankful for that. I never worried about of my heart condition. I had enough people in my life worrying for me.
I remember hearing stories of my parents being told I’d never be a functional kid growing up. I was going to be a “vegetable” if I even lived past the age of 3… then 8… then 12… then 16. Then they stopped when they realized this kid was an anomaly. Could you imagine being told your kid wouldn’t live a healthy life, or even a life at all? I can’t. Neither could my folks by the sounds of things. So my mom and dad, Ilke and Robert Schwartz got me out on skates and put me into the Indus Minor Hockey program by the time I was 4 years old. And I loved it.
Skating was a dream to me. I loved everything about it! The dressing room. The team play. The challenge of practices that taxed your body. Warm up. The feeling after a tough shift. The freedom. The crack of the ice. Everything. My favourite song growing up was “Big Leagues” by Tom Cochrane. I used to think he was singing my boy’s gonna play in the prickleys. Haha. It didn’t matter. I was going to be there. Wherever those “priceless” were. I still listen to that jam for warmup…
Well, here I am. Living through Tom Cochrane I guess it took me 27 years to accept my gift of inspiring other folks to move beyond their greatest fears. But this to me is the Big Leagues. I am currently in my first full season of my skating career. I train about 18-22 hours per week, ranging from ice sessions to dry land conditioning, road biking, running, the weight room, spin classes and yoga. Of course it helps that I’m knowledgeable in the area of fitness and the nature of my full time job lends itself to my lifestyle as an elite athlete, but even still, it is a lot of hard work and sacrifice.
I’m fortunate to have an opportunity to share my story with those that want to listen. Without Ronald McDonald House, my family wouldn’t have had the opportunity to allow Dr. Penkoske to perform such a new-age surgery for the times. My dad recently told me about how he, my mom and my big sister Natalie, who was 5 years old at the time were completely prepared to sell the house, sell the car and live out of suitcases in a hotel if they had to, just to keep me around. Thankfully, Ronald McDonald House took them in. My mom tells me of how nice it was to come home to the House and share with other families and their battles and have such an intricate network of support to lean on through such stressful times. They really appreciated the community. And they even celebrated my sisters birthday with her with a guest appearance from Ronald himself, that sly devil… This is my effort trying to give back. Thank you
Read more about Mike on his blog!