In a new series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com, we profile some of the most inspiring stories of commitment, courage and and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a real life miracle on ice.
Mark Sertich loves the sport of ice hockey. Always has. Always will. He says it’s a wonderful opportunity to be with a great bunch of friends.
Each week, Mark and his buddies from Duluth, Minnesota, USA gather to play three games against an opposing team; meeting up with his a puck until there’s a declared winner.
In a big hockey-playing state like Minnesota, that wouldn’t be an unusual occurrence. That is until you discover that Mark is aged 95.
Many will wonder why someone of such an advanced age would want to engage in such a notoriously rough, high-contact sport.
But the truth is, Mark stands by these solid words: “There is always a danger of injury, but over the years of playing, I don’t remember ever doubting if I should keep playing.”
While you’d assume his senior status would allow him to avoid being on the receiving end of rough stuff, Mark seems somewhat proud to point out that being well into his nineties hasn’t stopped anyone from giving him a hard time during a game.
The absolute definition of a veteran player of the sport, Mark does his best each time, playing alongside teammates that are on average 50 years younger than he is, against competitors who are eager to win.
As an avid player, Mark has had a long journey with ice hockey, having first been introduced to the sport in 1932, when he was just ten years old.
“Our family had moved to an area where there was an ice rink, which gave me the chance to be involved,” he recalls, “At first it was just playing hockey without skates. Back then you were lucky if your family could afford to buy you a hockey stick, let alone skates.”
Fortunately, Mark was granted that luck.
After winning a pair of racing skates called “tin horns”, he taught himself the balance and stability needed for wearing hockey skates, picking up the rules of the game from local kids who would come together and just play.
While Mark, who stands out on the rink thanks to his trademark handlebar moustache, still has the ability to keep up with the 30, 40, 50, and 60 year olds, that doesn’t mean it’s effortless.
To keep in shape for the physical demands of ice hockey, he disciplines himself to do push-ups, weight lifting, and stretching throughout the week. On the days when he’s not on the ice, he’ll walk a few miles.
He also sticks to a routine of eating eggs, sausage, and toast with peanut butter and jelly each morning, followed by chicken with vegetables for dinner.
So far, this sequence of habits seems to be working, as Mark has held the world record title for Oldest ice hockey player since he turned 87.
Over the last 32 years, he’s participated in tournaments in numerous cities, including Toronto, Canada, Blaine, Minnesota, Reno and Las Vegas Nevada, and his favourite: Santa Rosa, California.
As well as the memorable games he’s played and scored in, Mark’s ice hockey journey has unsurprisingly served up some unforgettable adventures along the way.
Arguably the pinnacle moment came when he was offered the chance to try out for the professional NHL team, the Minnesota Wild, who happen to be Sertich’s favourite team.
“The Wild were headed to Duluth, from St. Pail Minnesota to have a practice scrimmage, and had heard about a 90 year old fellow still playing and wondered if he wanted to ‘try out’ for the team. I got on the ice with a couple of their players, and did some passing and shooting drills, taking some shots at the goalie and actually getting a couple of goals – I think he took it easy on me though.”
Mark jokes it didn’t work out with the NHL team because of salary disagreements, but whole heartedly, he was just happy to get close to the players and connect with the team who he hopes make it to the Stanley Cup this season.
Having started playing the sport in Minnesota, ice hockey has taken him to various states, namely Santa Rosa, California, where he played alongside teammate and famous Charlie Brown comic book artist, Charles “Sparky” Schulz.
“When I first went out to play in Santa Rosa, it was on a team that played against Charles’ ‘Diamond Icers”. A year or two later there was an opening on his team, and I was fortunate enough to be picked as a replacement. That lead me play several years on the same line as Sparky, which I considered quite an honour.”
The pair bonded over their upbringing in Minnesota, and their service in Armoured Divisions during World War II.
It seems like the friendship turned out to be a special one. Mark has an autographed, custom comic strip from the late Sparky himself.
Today, Mark still plays, living up to the incredible record he set decades ago, and impressing many players who dare to join him for a casual game on the ice.
Nonetheless, Mark can’t imagine doing anything different with his time, even at 95.
“I don’t take any medication for pain, and hopefully never will. The easiest thing is just getting out there on the ice and playing.”