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He was in the best shape of his life. Then he went into cardiac arrest during a triathlon

Mark Allen, 50, wanted to get healthy and built up the strength to compete in triathlons. Thanks to his fitness level, he survived when his heart stopped beating.
Mark Allen
Courtesy Anytime Fitness

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In 2014, Mark Allen of Newark, DE, decided he wanted to get healthy, so he joined Anytime Fitness and started working out with coach and co-owner Samantha Mitchell. That decision may have saved his life.

“When Mark joined, he was not a fit guy, at all,” Samantha says. “But he had ambitious goals. We looked at them holistically because nutrition and training both play a big part. I gave him a nutrition plan to follow, and Mark logged into MyFitnessPal and tracked every bite he ate, every single day.”

Mark, now 50, targeted his macros — protein, fat and carbohydrates — and tracked his food every day for over two years.

“As he was getting better and stronger, he was asking, ‘What else can I do?” says Anytime Fitness coach and co-owner Devon Mitchell, Samantha’s husband. Mark decided he wanted to run a marathon. He and Devon started with 5Ks, worked up to 10Ks, and kept going, eventually setting their sights on triathlons.

Mark was committed. Devon says, “I connected my training watch to Mark, and every time Mark did a workout, I got a notification. Every day, it was ‘bing, bing.’ Mark had finished another workout.”

Training for a triathlon is rigorous, and as the chief financial officer of a charter school, Mark had a busy schedule. But he made time for his workouts. “I was working out twice a day,” he says. “I would go to the gym in the morning at 6 a.m., go to work, and then come to the gym again after work.”

Mark fell in love with triathlons and competed whenever he could. He got to the point where he was competing in half Ironmans and winning medals in sprint triathlons. He was stronger and healthier than he had ever been in his life. He was always looking for the next event or competition, and he and Devon competed together in Spain in April 2019 in the Multi-Sport World Championship.

Mark Allen
Mark Allen fell in love with triathlons and would compete whenever he could, even winning medals in sprint triathlons.Courtesy Mark Allen

He collapsed from cardiac arrest during a triathlon

When Mark and his wife, Tanya Allen, were competing in a half Ironman in September 2019 in Augusta, GA, something went horribly wrong, and he collapsed during the event.

Tanya says, “After the swim portion, a race official came over to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, ‘OK, we’re going to get your things and go to the hospital.’ Mark went into cardiac arrest, caused by a heart disease he didn’t know he had.” 

Emergency responders worked on him for 45 minutes to get his heart beating again. “If I hadn’t signed up with Anytime Fitness, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now. It literally saved my life because of the fitness level that I was at when I had my accident,” Mark says. “I got hit six times [with the defibrillator paddles]. They don’t usually do it that much. But they thought I could take it because of my fitness level.”

“They kept trying. If he was not that fit, they might have called it,” Tanya says. 

Mark was hospitalized for two weeks. “Initially, he couldn’t speak, couldn’t walk, couldn’t eat,” Tanya says. He moved to inpatient rehab, which doctors expected would take two months, but he finished in two weeks. After that came eight months of physical therapy at home.

Mark Allen
After suffering a cardiac arrest during a triathlon, Mark Allen couldn’t speak, walk or eat.Courtesy Mark Allen

Rehab, recovery and a new fitness routine

It took a full year of recovery and rehab before Mark could go back to the gym. At first, he simply wanted to reconnect with his gym family.

“He was still recovering, and he wanted to come back and visit. I wanted to take a picture. We did a wall sit, and we were busting out laughing,” Samantha says. “But then he said, ‘Sam, I’m done.’ And normally, I’m the one saying I’m done. It was a realization that with this new version of Mark, he wasn’t where he was before. We had to be in a space of accepting that he was recovering, building up, and not knowing what that would look like.”

Mark Allen
After a year of rehab, Mark Allen was able to get back into the gym.Courtesy Anytime Fitness

They needed to work together to find ways for Mark to safely build his fitness. Devon says, “Before Mark’s accident, our role as coaches was to push him over the next hurdle. Now it’s changed. We need to restrain him from pushing so hard. We need to identify a goal that still makes sense, motivates him and keeps him inspired. It’s a different part of the journey.”

Now, Mark’s workouts are focused more on movement and staying active. Still, he is exceeding expectations. His doctors told him he’d only be able to golf and bowl, but he’s proved them wrong. He’s back on his bike, and on September 29, 2023, exactly four years after his injury, he rode 30 miles to support multiple sclerosis (MS). 

“That was a big milestone. It was the first lengthy official race he had done post-accident,” Samantha said. “It was incredible to watch.” 

Mark Allen
Exactly four years after his cardiac arrest, Mark Allen rode 30 miles to support multiple sclerosis.Courtesy Mark Allen

Since Mark can’t go as hard as he used to, he’s focused on helping others. He’s recruiting and motivating others to get on their own health and fitness journeys by sharing his story. He’s starting coaching, with his first session scheduled for May. 

Recognizing his strength, he was selected as Anytime Fitness Member Success Winner in 2023. “It does not matter what is in front of Mark. Mark is going to persevere and push through and find a way to get better,” Devon says.

Mark Allen
Mark Allen and his wife Tanya.Courtesy Anytime Fitness