Keeping the pace

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Mark Unterseher was born to run.

It is his passion.

Yet, he hasn’t logged a mile since June 2015.

Unterseher’s running days came to an abrupt end when he fell from a tree he was trimming; he broke four vertebrate in his back, some ribs, his sternum, and punctured a lung.

He’s been in a wheelchair since the accident, but he hasn’t let that stop him from pounding the pavement with his cross country team at Wachter Middle School.

Cross country practice at the school starts with a warm-up lap, some stretching and then the runners hit the trail to get in some solid practice miles. But what sets this group of young runners apart is their coach. You’ll always find Coach Unterseher on the trail with his team.

“Slow jog!” Unterseher reminds them as they run.

Coaching, from his wheelchair.

“They have to try to keep up to the wheelchair!” Unterseher said with a smile. “This thing goes 12 miles an hour, so that’s five-minute mile pace, so they have to go pretty fast if they want to keep up to the wheelchair.”

The accident in 2015 left Unterseher paralyzed. He never thought he’d be back here, doing what he loves most.

“I was pretty depressed,” he said.

His students helped snap him out of that depression.

“I’m back to where I was and it’s good,” said Unterseher.

And while his accident changed his life, Unterseher says it also changed the way he coaches.

“I was very competitive; I wanted to win everything. When I was coaching it was all about winning. It’s not that way anymore. Now it’s about gaining relationships with the kids and making it fun. Just by gaining relationships and treating everyone with so much more respect, we’ve been pretty good. I think I’m coaching different. Makes it different for the kids too. They perform for you. They just perform it’s amazing,” Unterseher explained.

His athletes say his endurance inspires them, on and off the track.

“He’s really good at encouraging and he can keep an eye on times, so I know what pace I’m going at any moment,” said Parker Hintz, eighth-grade runner.

“He pushes us to go further and faster and just keep going,” added teammate Sophia Ness, eighth grader.

“I think it’s really cool when we’re on a run and we see him and see how fortunate we are to be able to run. It gives us confidence,” said Zoe Reichenberger, eighth grade .

And this is the best therapy Unterseher says he could ever ask for.

The Wachter Cross Country team has grown every year since Unterseher has been back coaching since his accident. This year, there are 51 kids in grades six, seven and eight on the team. That’s the most ever.

Besides coaching cross country, Unterseher also coaches track at Wachter and teaches math at Bismarck High.