From Varble Park hill to Mt. Everest: Guido raises communities to new heights
Bensenville resident and Fenton High School graduate Mark Guido's flight departs early April 6 as he embarks on his attempt to summit Mount Everest. He has overcome several obstacles in his six-year-journey, and he's carrying with him the hopes and dreams of his community and children from across the globe as he reaches new heights.
The 29-year-old discovered his passion -- and talent -- in 2016, when he embarked on a 110-mile trek through France, Italy and Switzerland. "It was my first time ever leaving the country, and I kind of just was winging it," he says. "I didn't really have any training experience for something like this, and I kind of just did it and found out I was very good at doing this stuff. The trek kind of piqued my interest in endurance challenges and things of that nature."
Not long after, he embarked on a Himalayan adventure that brought him to the shadows of Mount Everest, which led to an invitation to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, where he would experience five major climatic zones -- from hot and arid equatorial conditions at the base to arctic conditions at the summit -- again without any training program. "It was kind of like off the couch going to Africa to do this climb," Guido notes with a smile. "I was relying heavily on my youth."
But on that trip to Kilimanjaro in 2017, about 300 feet below the summit, something strange happened: Guido lost complete function of his legs. After a rest, he was able to safely complete the journey to the top, but on the way back down, a fellow climber thought he was having a stroke until his symptoms disappeared at lower elevations.
"It happened very quickly; it's just it was crazy because everything was going super well and then my health just deteriorated," Guido explains. "My doctor buddy who I was climbing with noticed, as I was coming back down, my shoulder was slouched to one side and I was hunched over."
Completing the summit of Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, gave Guido the confidence and desire to complete other expeditions to the highest points on each of the seven continents. He needed a training plan if he was to conquer all seven summits, so he adopted the uphill athlete big mountain training program and began working out at the Bensenville Park District's Wood Street Fitness Center in preparation to summit Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America.
"The training plan is awesome -- it's very focused on uphill endurance, strength and core and muscular endurance as well. I actually come to the Bensenville Park District to do much of my training on the StairMaster," he said, citing the center's convenience and affordability.
Guido departed for Argentina in February 2019, determined to conquer South America's highest point and "take all that training and test it out on a higher mountain." Things were going well, and his training regimen that included carrying up to 65 lbs. on his back while using the stair climber at Wood St. Fitness seemed to be paying off. He was a bit nervous as he approached the height of the Kilimanjaro peak (19,340 feet), but he had no issues and continued upward with a renewed confidence.
Then, 600-700 feet from the Aconcagua summit of 22,829 feet, it happened again -- he lost all function of his legs. He recalls, "I had no idea why; it just happened out of nowhere. I did make it up, I summited safely and I came back down, but again I'm just like, 'OK, well, I must not be training hard enough for something like this.'"
So he trained harder for the next adventure.
In August 2019, he summited Mount Elbrus (18,512 feet), the highest mountain in Europe, located in the Caucasus mountain range in southern Russia. He climbed two volcanoes in Ecuador later that year in an effort to prepare to summit North America's highest point, Denali (20,320 feet) in spring of 2020. At the end of his grueling training program, the pandemic hit, and the expedition to Alaska got canceled.
"It was just extremely frustrating and crushing because I went through this very lengthy training program, and there was no payoff on the other end, so I was in a very dark place after that," Guido says of the depression he faced for many months following the cancellation. "It was probably one of the worst spots I was in my entire life, so I decided to go get some therapy, which helped a lot, and I ultimately ended up getting diagnosed with depression anxiety and OCD, which was a shocker. It's something I've been living with my entire life, but I was high functioning so it went undiagnosed for many years."
Guido was reassured by the diagnosis, and the tools he learned in therapy helped him move forward. Eventually, he got to a much better place and refocused on training for his next climb, Mount Everest, in 2021. As the expedition date neared, he got an echocardiogram done in December 2020 to make sure he had no health issues.
What the doctors discovered was he had a heart condition called a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) -- a hole in the heart that significantly raises the risk of stroke and pulmonary edema at high altitudes. He was given two choices: quit climbing or surgically repair the hole.
"Without any hesitation I jumped on it. I didn't even think of the potential risk," he says of the surgery option, noting that doctors also found he had an elongated eustachian valve, which made the procedure more complicated. "I was just so hyper-focused on continuing my passions."
With surgery out of the way, Guido pivoted to training to attempt the Everest summit in May 2022. He has trained six days a week for three-to-four hours of strength and core endurance.
Even during the COVID spikes that caused the Deer Grove Leisure Center to shut down, he trained with a weighted backpack on the Varble Park hill behind the center.
"It's funny because that hill is the hill I used to play on when I was a kid," he says. "I went to school at Johnson and Blackhawk Middle School, so it's cool to think of that like this could potentially be one of the reasons -- the training on that hill -- that I end up summiting Mount Everest."
Guido has spoken to the Red Hats senior group at the park district about his adventures as well as other community groups such as the Rotary Club, and he's taking a Bensenville Park District flag with him for a "photo op" when he summits Everest. He says he's grateful for the support of the people of Bensenville in helping him live his passion: "I just think it's really cool that I have the support of the community. This is where I grew up; I went to school in Bensenville, and just to have the support of the community is really amazing and exciting. I'll definitely take that with me when I'm on the climb for extra motivation."
He's also motivated by helping others after seeing children in need during his first trip to the Himalayas. That's when Guido launched Peaks for Purpose, tying his climbing goals to children's charities around the world. Each trip he takes is tied to a charitable children's organization, and he has raised more than $10,000 thus far, enough to pay for the installation of a 40-ft wireless internet tower at Quinta Betel, a remote children's home at the base of the Andes; donating activity books and art supplies for children and families in Tomilino; and helping to construct a dining hall for children in Tanzania. His Everest expedition is raising money for SOS Children's Villages Nepal, a nonprofit whose mission is to build families for children in need, helping them shape their own futures and to share in development of their communities.
When he returns home in the summer, Guido hopes to continue to inspire young people and share his message. He's already committed to speak to park district patrons young and old.
"I think it's very important for the youth to go after their passions and not think twice about it," Guido says. "There have been a lot of setbacks the last few years, but there's a setback in every good journey. You just keep chugging forward."
For more information about Mark Guido, Peaks for Purpose or to donate, visit PeaksforPurpose.org.
Visit WoodStFitness.com for information about Wood Street Fitness, located inside the Bensenville Park District's Deer Grove Leisure Center, 1000 W. Wood Street, Bensenville.