Former Ohio State student Mark Kalina Jr. is planning to complete a 10-12 mile obstacle course called the Tough Mudder in May — less than two years after losing both of his legs in a train accident.
The then-fifth year in civil engineering was walking home by himself from Grandview Heights after a night out with friends in October 2012. As he walked alongside a railroad track, he slipped on gravel and his shirt snagged on a train, which began moving at the same time. Unable to free himself, Kalina pulled himself onto a ladder on the side of the train and held on for as long as he could until he fell, landing on the connector.
His body was pulled underneath the train and his entire left leg and right leg below the knee were severed as the entire train passed over him.
Kalina then dialed 911 and directed the police and ambulance to his location, even though he said in that moment, he didn’t think he was going to make it.
“I remember being upset that I didn’t call my parents one last time … People say your life flashes before your eyes, but I had mostly thoughts about unfinished business. How I never finished my degree, never got married, never had kids, all my goals were just done. It was this feeling of overwhelming helplessness,” Kalina said.
In and out of consciousness, Kalina remembers the officers arriving and pulling him off the track, a point at which he said neither the officers nor the emergency medical technicians thought he would make it, as they told him later.
Waking up in the OSU Wexner Medical Center hours later, Kalina was amazed he was still alive.
Now, he’s back in his hometown of Twinsburg, Ohio, walking on prosthetics and preparing to complete the Tough Mudder in Mansfield, Ohio, with a team set up through the Mark Kalina Jr. Foundation he and his family established in January 2013.
The foundation provides support for others who have lost limbs due to a traumatic accident, a big part of which is financial assistance for prosthetics, Kalina said.
“I never knew how expensive prosthetics were. It’s over $100,000 worth of equipment. (The foundation) provides financial support for their own prosthetics they would need to live their life like they used to, as much as that could happen,” Kalina said.
The foundation raises money through an annual April fundraising event, including a raffle with donations from local companies, though events will grow in the future, said Matt Kalina, Mark Kalina’s younger brother.
“We’re picking up things as we go. We’ve never run a foundation before. I run the website,” Matt Kalina said. “Everyone hears his story and wants to do things to help out. We wanted to do more than help Mark, Mark wanted to help other people.”
Mark Kalina has volunteered with a national organization called Operation Lifesaver Inc., which works to educate people on safe practices concerning railroads. He also gives safety presentations, telling his story.
This past month, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to radio and TV stations on behalf of a national campaign called “See Tracks? Think Train!” run through Operation Lifesaver.
“I was sharing my personal story, so they can learn from my story and they won’t make the same mistake,” Mark Kalina said.
Mark Kalina also volunteers at MetroHealth Hospital in Cleveland in a program with survivors of trauma, sharing his story and motivation with others going through similar experiences.
After being in a wheelchair for two months and then beginning the painful process of using prosthetic legs to walk, Mark Kalina said he’s now using a cane less and less, planning to wean himself off it completely this summer.
The most difficult thing has been remembering how easy activities used to be, Mark Kalina said.
“The hardest part is knowing what I used to be able to do, and knowing that I can’t do that. I used to run and work out a lot, play soccer for my fraternity intramural team. It’s having a not as active lifestyle,” Mark Kalina said.
However, Mark Kalina said his optimistic attitude comes from the support he’s felt following the accident.
“When I woke up in the hospital I was just happy to be alive. I had amazing support from my family and friends, Ohio State, my fraternity. The entire college, I felt like, was behind me. Coming back home, the community was behind me. All that support helped me be positive, keep pushing myself to improve,” Mark Kalina said.
Matt Kalina, who is a fourth-year in communication, said watching his brother recover has been incredible.
“It’s been really inspirational because I can’t say I would have been as strong as he was. When I first walked into the hospital room, he was positive from that moment on. He hasn’t lost that. He knows what he wants to do and he makes it happen,” Matt Kalina said.
Daniel Brandt, a fourth-year in environment, economy, development and sustainability and a friend of Mark Kalina’s from OSU’s Alpha Rho Chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity that Mark belonged to, said he was stunned when he first heard the news. Now, however, his surprise about Mark’s progress is minimal.
“In general, it’s surprising that someone can have that positive of an attitude, but even before the accident he was positive and upbeat. If there was anyone that could have that upbeat of an attitude, it’d be him. He’s just like that as a person,” Brandt said.
This coming fall, Mark Kalina is set to attend Cleveland State University, a campus where he said he can move around without needing assistance from anyone, to finish his degree.
Mark Kalina said the biggest lesson he’s learned is that he’s not invincible.
“I approached a situation, walking on train tracks, and I said, ‘I’ll be careful enough, going across the tracks is fine.’ Don’t think nothing bad can ever happen, because it can. You can cut corners a thousands times but just once, something bad can happen, and not a lot of people are aware of that,” he said