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Battling the unexpected

Mark Olsen, owner of Martial Arts Training Academy in Bremerton, was paralyzed from the waist down in 1999. Doctors said he may have had multiple sclerosis, but he later overcame the disease and opened the Bremerton martial arts school.  - Photo by Rachel Brant
Mark Olsen, owner of Martial Arts Training Academy in Bremerton, was paralyzed from the waist down in 1999. Doctors said he may have had multiple sclerosis, but he later overcame the disease and opened the Bremerton martial arts school.
— image credit: Photo by Rachel Brant

By RACHEL BRANT

Staff writer

Mark Olsen moved to Los Angeles for martial arts. He trained in various forms of mixed martial arts, but even his years of training could not prepare him for what was next.

In 1999, Olsen, owner of the Martial Arts Training Academy in Bremerton, felt a stabbing pain in his back. Other problems quickly ensued.

“I literally felt like I had a knife in my back. My legs felt weird and started going numb,” Olsen said. “The pain got worse and then I started losing control of a lot of things. I couldn’t do anything which was horrible.”

Olsen’s roommate took him to the hospital where the then-27-year-old spent 12 hours in a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine. A doctor discovered that Olsen’s mylon sheath had separated from his spinal cord.

Olsen’s doctor called his parents in Washington and said they needed to fly to Los Angeles as soon as possible. It was then that Olsen knew it was serious.

“I thought ‘this isn’t right, this is serious,’” he said.

The doctor told Olsen and his parents that the seasoned martial arts enthusiast may have multiple sclerosis. Olsen was in the hospital for two weeks, paralyzed from the waist down.

The doctor said his good health may have saved his life. Olsen’s parents put him in a traditional martial arts class when he was 8 or 9 years old. He moved to Los Angeles in 1996 and began training heavily in Muay Thai kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, submission wrestling and Kali, a form of Filipino weaponry.

“(The doctor) said if I wasn’t in as good a shape as I was I would have died from it,” Olsen said. “If I hadn’t been training that hard I would have been gone in that one episode.”

When he left the hospital, Olsen had to give himself injections in his leg every other day. He frequently had family and friends visit him in Los Angeles and help him in any way they could.

“I started learning that when you’re down people will help you,” Olsen said. “My spirit wasn’t broken for sure. I had company, I even had friends from home (Washington) fly down.”

Olsen, desperate to get back into training, returned to martial arts soon after he left the hospital.

“And me being the way I was I got back to training as soon as I could,” he said. “I started training before I could feel the bottoms of my feet.”

Olsen moved back to Bremerton and could not find a place to train in the area, so he began teaching martial arts out of his parents’ garage.

Olsen then found a spot five years ago on Riddell Road and opened the Martial Arts Training Academy. He said if he had not gotten sick, he would probably be competing in mixed martial arts tournaments and the Martial Arts Training Academy would not exist.

“Maybe I got sick and plucked out of there and now I’m learning my goals are constantly shifting toward the students here,” he said. “My utmost goal is for people to have a positive place to train and ultimately I want that positive energy to get put out in the world.”

Olsen said he loves teaching the adult and children’s classes at the Martial Arts Training Academy. He enjoys talking with his students on a personal level and strengthening them physically, mentally and socially through martial arts.

“My No. 1 goal for these kids is to realize how good they are and their potential,” Olsen said. “The potential for greatness is in everybody.”

Through his martial arts training, Olsen was prepared for many things in life, but he could not prepare for that moment in 1999 when he battled a paralyzing illness. Now he is off medication and views the illness as a positive change in his life.

“Looking back on my getting sick, good things have come from it,” Olsen said. “Right now I’m one of the happiest people on earth.”

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