Mark Parrish coached the Squalicum wrestling team for 12 seasons - from the day the school opened until 2011, when he left to spend more time with his family. Before that, he was an assistant at Bellingham for seven years.
During that 19-year tenure, how many wrestlers do you figure he told to battle through adversity? How many times did he tell his team that it could beat just about any opponent through determination, belief in itself and, or course, hard work?
And that's not even counting the students he helped mold as a physical education instructor at the school.
"He was the guy that helped unlock the work-hard kind of attitude for me," said Carl Rice, who took an advanced weight training class from Parrish before graduating from Squalicum in 2008 and is now an instructor at TORQUE Martial Arts in Bellingham. "He pushed people hard. He was brutal. ... I found that I loved it, though. He's the one responsible for me accomplishing a lot of things."
But last March, Parrish found himself face-to-face with one of the toughest opponents he'll ever face - squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
Parrish has yet to pin his stubborn opponent, but he has been able to learn more about himself from the ongoing battle.
"I'm a strong person, and I take a lot of strength from things I've learned in my life," Parrish said in a phone interview. "Whatever adversity you face, face with strength and courage. I've learned stuff about myself through cancer. Being a wrestler and a wrestling coach for such a big part of my life and preaching the things I have, it helps me recognize that I can walk the walk from the talk I've talked. It's been a source of my strength."
And now Parrish hopes to share his strength and his story during the Fifth Annual Northwest Conference Coaches vs. Cancer Event, which will be held at the 14 NWC boys' and girls' basketball games on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 24-25.
Parrish has been selected the honorary coach for the Squalicum boys' basketball team when it hosts Mount Baker on Friday.
Each team will select an honorary coach who is either battling or has beaten cancer or a family member of someone lost to cancer to sit on their bench during the event. The honorary coaches will be introduced before the games and get a chance to tell their stories during halftime to help raise awareness for the fight against cancer.
Coaches will join in raising awareness, as they'll wear T-shirts in their school colors furnished by Cloud 9 Sports and athletic shoes, much like in college basketball's Coaches vs. Cancer event.
In addition, each school will hold its own series of fundraisers throughout the week, with all money raised in Whatcom County going to the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center and all money raised in Skagit County games going to either United General Hospital or Skagit Valley Hospital. Fundraisers are expected to range from a head shaving of school figures at Sehome for its boys' basketball game against Nooksack Valley on Thursday to a silent auction that the Meridian Booster Club held earlier this month.
According to a press release, the conference raised more than $30,000 during the first four years of the event, and coaches and school administrators have trumpeted the benefits of getting students involved in giving back to their communities and raising awareness of the disease.
Though it's a different sport, Parrish said he's excited to once again get the chance to be a coach.
"Basketball is not my sport, but I'm telling you, when you're a coach, you're a coach," Parrish said. "It's nice having the support of the Squalicum basketball team. The two years they won state, I made the trip there to watch them. (Coach) Dave Dickson is a good friend of mine. I've known him for more than 20 years. For him to ask me to do something like this, is really special. It's great on his part."
Before he was diagnosed, Parrish was well aware of the dangers of cancer.
His father fought and beat lung and brain cancer, and his younger brother, Jason, died last year after battling pancreatic cancer.
So when he discovered a lump on his neck and head, Parrish said he didn't hesitate in getting to the doctor. A biopsy confirmed that he had the squamous cell carcinoma in his lymph nodes.
"It was a challenging time for me," Parrish said. "I'm a really healthy guy, and here I am ending up getting cancer. Of course it runs in my family, but still, it's not something you plan on hearing."
He had surgery to remove the lump and received treatment at the University of Washington, but in October he discovered another lump in a similar area - this time in the trapezius muscle in his shoulder.
"At first, I thought it was just a cyst," Parrish said. "They gave me antibiotics, and it was encouraging, because it went down, but a biopsy showed that it was back."
This time, he's receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments in Bellingham.
"The chemo has been really rough on me - I've been very sickly," Parrish said. "I've only had two sittings of chemo, and I got very ill after both. Last week was my second sitting, and I was hospitalized for dehydration. I'm very thankful that my chemo is done. I just have radiation left."
Parrish said he has two more weeks of radiation left, and he obviously hopes that's the end of it.
After stepping away from his teaching job to begin treatment on Dec. 21, Parrish said he hopes to return to the school after spring break in early April.
"The Squalicum community, from the staff and administration to the students, has been unbelievably supportive," Parrish said. "It feels like the Squalicum community is a family. That's how they've treated me. I feel very fortunate and humbled by the support I have received."
That support has extended beyond the current Storm family to former wrestlers and students, including Rice, who liked Parrish's class and motivational techniques so much that he recommended his younger brother and sister take the course.
"With everything that Parrish has done for my family, when the cancer issue came about, I starting thinking about how to help him out," Rice said in a phone interview. "This is big battle and we need to show him our support."
Rice came up with the idea to host a Kickin' Out Cancer Self Defense seminar at TORQUE Martial Arts to help raise funds to help offset some of the treatment costs Parrish's battle has incurred. The seminar is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Feb. 2 at TORQUE Martial Arts, 1308 Meador Ave., Suite C7.
The seminar is free, but donations of $5 are encouraged - a gray "Parrish Strong Choke out Cancer" bracelet and two free weeks of martial arts classes will be given to anyone who does donate.
"My hope is that we can teach some self defense and give some people some confidence and at the same time raise some awareness for Mark Parrish, all the great things he has done for this community and the battle he is fighting," Rice said.
Parrish said support like that and being selected an honorary coach has been overwhelming over the past 10 months.
"I live my life as a giver," Parrish said. "It's been interesting to be a receiver of so much love and support. My alumni have been amazing, giving me a lot of strength to continue through this fight. I can't tell you how many times they have told me, 'When I was in this spot, you told me this.' It's been pretty incredible. It makes me realize the difference I had in their lives, because they're now there making a difference in mine."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
NORTHWEST CONFERENCE COACHES VS. CANCER EVENT
All games start at 7:15 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 24
Nooksack Valley at Sehome
Meridian at Lynden Christian
Ferndale at Bellingham
Friday, Jan. 25
Blaine at Lynden
Sedro-Woolley at Anacortes
Mount Baker at Squalicum
Bellingham at Burlington-Edison
Thursday, Jan. 24
Lynden Christian at Meridian
Sehome at Nooksack Valley
Bellingham at Ferndale
Friday, Jan. 25
Lynden at Blaine
Burlington-Edison at Bellingham
Anacortes at Sedro Woolley
Squalicum at Mount Baker
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.