SEQUIM — Friends and family members are rallying support around Sequim Skate Park’s biggest advocate.
Mark Simpson, 51, has held fundraisers since 2016 and reached out to many businesses and organizations seeking support to remodel the park and help skaters of all ages.
He founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Sequim Youth Skate Park Foundation to better the Sequim Skate Park in Carrie Blake Community Park.
In May, he was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal and stomach cancer.
Doctors initially thought he had heartburn, he said in an interview at the skate park.
“I lost a bunch of weight, couldn’t eat anything,” he said. “I threw up blood, and that’s when things went faster (for a diagnosis).”
He started treatment at the Olympic Medical Cancer Center, and the good news so far, he says, is that the tumor has shrunk.
In an online campaign for Simpson, his friend Gary Barss wrote, “The main focus for Mark right now is his health and his treatments and this has forced him to take medical leave and go on disability.
“He is grateful to have this benefit but over time it will be difficult to handle the medical expenses and support the family as he progresses through the coming weeks.”
To offset ongoing medical costs, an online fundraiser was set up at gofundme.com/f/a4fujs-love-for-mark-shelly-and-family. As of Thursday, the fundraiser had raised $14,868 of a $20,000 goal.
A car wash to support Simpson runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 22, at Discount Tire, 981 W. Washington St., Sequim.
Simpson said his coworkers at Costco, where he’s worked for 10 years, have been great to him in his tenure and about time off for treatment and recovery.
Josh Gahr, Simpson’s major supervisor, said Simpson is a great person and he’s also an integral part of the sales team that makes it No. 1 in their district for online sales.
Coworker Shannon Poirier said Simpson is an inspiration and he gave her tips to help her child get into skateboarding.
“You don’t see many people skating his age,” she said.
Donations have remained integral for Simpson and his family, he said, as his disability insurance wasn’t available right away so they’ve been paying bills and for other daily needs with help from community support.
He’s been married to his wife Shelly for 30 years. They have three children: Tolin, 24, Ayden, 22, and Emma, 11.
“(My family is) doing pretty good,” Simpson said of the diagnosis. “They know it’s difficult.”
In a video posted online, Simpson said his faith in God has made him feel stronger through the process.
“I’m gonna beat this and get back to ollies,” he said.
Simpson was highlighted a few years ago in the Sequim Gazette for his effort to do an ollie — a skateboarding trick where the rider and board leap without hands — each day for a full year.
“It’s a basic trick, and I like that feeling of a pop and floating,” he said.
He tried to replicate it this year and got to day 141 on May 21 before pain and weakness caused him to pause.
Simpson started skating at age 12 in Springfield, Ore.
“Mostly it was because of the freedom,” he said. “It challenges you.”
In the skating subculture, Simpson said he found his family, too.
He resonates with late skateboarder Jay Adams’ quote: “You didn’t quit skateboarding because you got old, you got old because you quit skateboarding.”
Said Simpson: “I just decided not to stop as an adult.”
Simpson, the Sequim Youth Skate Park Foundation’s president, said it has raised about $22,000 so far with hopes of a $25,000 matching grant and other grants and contributions.
A preliminary design has been made and a remodel is in the City of Sequim’s Parks Master Plan, he said, but the project would cost between $700,000 and $1 million.
“It’s drastically needed because it’s used all the time,” Simpson said.
He feels the local skateboarding community has grown, and each event, including a May fundraiser, sees support grow too.
“We get a lot of support from Libtech, restaurants and the community,” he said.
“We want to keep momentum going while Mark is out,” Poirier said.
To support remodeling efforts, go to sequimyouthskateparkfoundation.com.
Find the foundation on social media at instagram.com/sysk8parkf and on Facebook under “Sequim Skate Park Remodel/Expansion.”
Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.