RUSH CITY, Minn. — As Mark Wick made his way through the back nine holes of Bulrush Golf Club for a fourth time on Tuesday, the former St. Scholastica men’s hockey coach was beginning to feel the previous 63 holes and five-plus hours of golf in his back.
That was especially true when it came time to bend down and tee up another drive.
“By the end, I’ll be dropping the ball on the floor,” Wick said.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are 132 suicides per day on average in the United States, which is why Wick chose to golf 132 holes on Tuesday at Bulrush, just off Interstate 35 in Rush City. In honor of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and to raise money for the Face It Foundation of Minnesota, the 57-year-old Hermantown native teed off just before sunrise at 6:58 a.m. and drained his final putt on the 293-yard par-4 ninth hole just before sundown at 6:50 p.m.
Wick was joined on the course throughout the day by two friends and former neighbors from Duluth, Bill Hanson and Paul Windberg, as well as Face It founders Mark Meier and Bill Dehkes. He lost only 30 balls while finishing with a score of 717 over the 7 1/3 rounds for just shy of a 98 average on the par-72 course.
With the days getting shorter and shorter in Northern Minnesota, Wick went into the day figuring he would need the indoor golf simulator at Bulrush to finish his 132 holes. But everyone on the course let “the guy in the orange shirt” play through all day long. That and good friends helped Wick finish on the course, and not on a simulator.
“Everything today was awesome as far as we had perfect weather, and the people at Bulrush were great,” Wick said after completing 132 holes. “It was great to have the support that I did. And really, on social media, there's been just a ton of support. It’s been awesome.”
Wick is currently an assistant coach for the Augsburg University men’s hockey team, but is also an advocate for mental health. He was scheduled to speak with a hockey team on Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m., a little over 12 hours after completing his 132 holes of golf.
The winningest coach in Saints’ men’s hockey history, Wick took a leave of absence from the program at the end of the 2014-15 season to seek help for his depression. He was fired by the Saints after 14 seasons in 2018, and has since dedicated his life to talking about mental health. He speaks regularly with college, high school and junior hockey programs, as well as other athletic teams and organizations, sharing his own mental health struggles. This summer, as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on in the United States, Wick organized mental health Zoom conferences with NCAA hockey coaches.
Talking about his mental health experiences is something Wick said he wish he’d done 30 years ago instead of trying to deny and hide it. As Wick got ready to begin his fifth round of golf at Bulrush on Tuesday, Wick said he wish he’d heard a story like his in college, but no one talked about mental health back then.
“What I went through in 2015 with the team up there, that was a tough time, but you hope when you go through those tough times, that something positive can come out of it,” said Wick, who played for Gustavus Adolphus College before transferring to St. Scholastica in the 1980s. “Just the opportunity to share my story with others, and if it affects other people, that’s a positive. That’s why I want to do it. The more I do it, the more you realize how much the need is out there, how many of these kids are really struggling. This is a tough time for these college athletes, college students. The stories I hear after I give talks and the kids that contact me, it’s tough.
“Anytime we can help somebody out and show them that they’re not alone, that there are people out there, that’s what I really want to do, have an impact that way. It’s been good for me. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Wick said speaking publicly about his mental health battles has been a big help, but so has the organization he was helping raise funds for on Tuesday, Face It. The foundation helps men in Minnesota understand and overcome depression in hopes of reducing the rate of male suicide. The foundation provides men's support groups, one-on-one peer support, outreach events and public education, as well as training for mental health professionals.
When Wick moved to the Twin Cities in the fall of 2018, he was introduced to Face It by former teammate and foundation board member Dave Hirsch. Wick is now part of three different support groups and Tuesday was the least he could do for an organization that has done so much for him.
“You really have a support system. You have people you can talk to,” Wick said. “Every week I’m on with different guys, we’re sharing experiences, and you never feel alone. Because for so long, that’s what I felt like. People with this mental illness, that’s how they feel, like they’re alone. But really, there is a whole community. …
“I don’t think it’s an understatement to say it’s been a lifesaver for me.”
After seven complete rounds Tuesday, with daylight fading, Wick played Bulrush’s first four holes, the eighth and finally the ninth to complete his final third of a round. Wick’s family was there on the ninth green to greet him, bring him to dinner and then chauffeur him home after a long day.
Midway through Tuesday’s marathon, Wick said it was already a struggle at times out there. His back was sore, but he’s faced bigger struggles, as have others. But he hoped he was creating an environment where people felt more comfortable speaking about their troubles.
“We need to be kind to each other. We need to look out for each other. We need to ask each other how they are — how they really are,” Wick said. “And if you’re that person, you have to be honest. It’s OK to get help. That’s what we want to spread, that’s what we want to promote. You don’t have to go through this alone.”