The hits just keep coming… one after another, after another, and they have been devastating on a local, national and global scale on account of this ceaseless coronavirus pandemic. This 2020 can’t end quick enough; for student athletes, their parents, administrators, behind-the-scenes school clerks, teachers, monitors, bus drivers, restaurant/business owners, cashiers, front-liners, et al. Every single one of us have traversed through some form of hardship, including the Putnam Valley girls’ basketball team and many other local athletes trained by Mark Bartelini of Challenge Your Limit Fitness in Mahopac.
These local athletes, who have been through hell since the COVID-19 virus struck last March, are now processing Bartelini’s unexpected passing last Thursday when his mom happened upon his lifeless body in the kitchen of his Mahopac home. Like many of us, Mark Bartelini battled demons in his past, but he rose above them and lifted the lives of hundreds of student athletes from his self-inspired gym along Mahopac/Somers border. Bartelini, a tortured soul at times, had some history, which he was very up front about. He openly cautioned his athletes about the pitfalls of life while traveling hundreds of miles a week to witness their grandeur in person. He recently drove some 400 miles to see the PV girls get after it in a summer AAU hoops tournament: No wonder they adored him.
A Hendrick Hudson High graduate and football player back in 2001, there was no road trip too long for Bartelini, no athlete too insignificant, no relationship too pointless to pursue. With energy through the roof, he poured his heart and soul into training his athletes and building lifelong bonds they’ll never forget.
“I always felt comfortable talking to Mark no matter what it was about,” Putnam Valley junior point guard Eva DeChent said through tears. “Mark made it actually enjoyable to work out. He always motivated me and pushed me to do better every day and always recognized my little accomplishments when nobody else would.
“He cared so much about every single person he trained, especially my basketball team,” DeChent added. “We all had a special connection with him, way more than a trainer. He had a big impact on my life and basketball career and I’ll never forget that. His passing will motivate all of us and we will come back 10 times stronger this year all for him.”
Bartelini plied his craft as a regular at the Premier Athletic Club in Montrose where he and his boys forged lifelong friendships that remain, if only in memory now. That gym, in fact, any gym where he could lift, or train others, kept him alive until last week. He had had a previous dalliance with death less than five years ago and was dealt another bad hand last winter when serious knee injuries to both legs steered him off course. It hardly slowed him down, though, as he limped his way to see PV girls’ hoops team win its first sectional title in school history last March, just as this God-awful pandemic was putting its death grip upon us.
“Every time I would come back from my substance abuse the gym saved me,” Bartelini said in a recent interview. “I always said if I didn’t like working out, I wouldn’t be alive.”
He often told his pupils something else, a little ditty we can only hope rings true within them as they cope with the loss of their beloved trainer: “I try to teach people that no matter what happens you’ve got to get back up. That’s the biggest thing with my kids. I tell them never stay down for long, always get back up and fight for it.”
Those athletes varied in range and ability, but they always got Mark’s best effort. While he trained some topnotch athletes in the region, he also worked with special needs youths through the New York State-funded Self Direction program.
“We work out. We hang out. It’s kind of like a Big Brother thing,” he said last January. “Everything I do with the kids is more than a workout. The biggest thing I do with kids is build their confidence. It’s gone better than I could ever have imagined.”
That vision, though blurred through teary eyes right now, will last a long time for those he touched… #RIP, big dog…
And then, the Section 1 basketball community rose Monday morning to learn of the gut-wrenching passing of down-county hoops legend Keith Yizar, a booming presence and fixture at the Westchester County Center Final 4’s and a lover of all things Mamaroneck, White Plains, Rye Neck and Woodlands. Mr. Yizar, whether you knew him or not, stood out at the County Center because he pulled for every kid in the house, not just Mamaroneck where he was larger than life. Underneath that emblematic bucket hat was a heart of gold, a man the community looked up to. A smile, a handshake and a bro-hug… I’ll miss that every time I pass his front-row, mid-court seat, which should remain open in his honor during championship week when we eventually get back to the Mecca. #RIP, my man.