Duluth hockey player still going strong as he turns 90Mark Sertich’s wish for Monday — blowing out 90 candles while on skates. Sertich’s 90th birthday parties will be saved for later as he prepares for a return to the ice.
By: Kevin Pates, duluthnewstribune.com
Mark Sertich’s wish for Monday — blowing out 90 candles while on skates.
Yet on his first day as a nonagenarian, the particularly fit 90-year-old Duluthian will be wearing a cast on his right ankle. He was injured June 3 warming up for a recreational hockey game at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, where he plays four times a week year-round with members of the Duluth Fire Department.
Sertich’s birthday parties will be saved for later as he prepares for a return to the ice. A celebration with 40-plus family members is set for Saturday, while the firefighters are planning a get-together this fall.
The retired office manager and World War II veteran has hardly been idle. He continues to maintain his four-bedroom home on 40th Avenue West, including mowing the lawn, and still drives and sticks to a strict daily regimen of push-ups and sit-ups. The seven children of Mark and Virginia Sertich have come to expect nothing less.
“He’s an inspiration to all of us and we can all take a lesson from him,” says Carole Fosness of Alborn, the oldest of the children and a retired Essentia Health-Hermantown Clinic receptionist. “He’s very independent, he takes very good care of himself, he can solve most of his own problems and he’s very determined. He and my mother were like that.
“They made a good life for us, they sent us to Catholic school and my dad (a widower) has just kept himself going. He’s unbelievable.”
Sertich says he draws on his strong Yugoslavian roots as one of eight children of Marco and Josephine Sertich, who came to the United States in 1921. Four siblings were born in Yugoslavia and remained there, while four were born in America.
The youngest, Katherine Gasman of Duluth, lives on her own in an apartment in Lakeside at age 87. She worked until age 82 in Duluth and Sarasota, Fla., as a mortgage loan officer and factory officer manager, yet says she can’t keep up with her older brother.
Mark Sertich worked for the Peavey Co. (now Con-Agra) in the Board of Trade Building for 42 years through 1983. In order to improve a sore back, he started walking four miles home from work and ultimately got involved in running, and completed Grandma’s Marathon five times in the early 1980s starting at age 59.
“He was jogging when no one else was jogging and he’s stayed in such good health,” Gasman said. “He has a garden and eats a lot of food he raises. He’s just very meticulous about everything he does.
“We were all brought up in our family to be respectful and polite, and Mark is still that way. And his house is spick-and-span clean. There’s not a thing out of place.”
Running marathons, and skating numerous NorthShore Inline Marathons into his 80s, provided Sertich with some notoriety, along with his handlebar mustache. Yet hockey remains his love. After raising four hockey-playing sons, he approached the Duluth firefighters team in the 1980s about joining their league as he entered his 60s. He’s the oldest member of that group and, in recent years, has been the oldest participant in the Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament in Santa Rosa, Calif., started by the late Charles Schulz, a St. Paul cartoonist and Peanuts creator.
Sertich is likely the oldest active hockey player in the United States, and Gasman has contacted the Guinness Book of World Records about recognizing her brother, a shifty 5-foot-8 and 155-pound offensive centerman. Dane Youngblom, 55, a captain in the Duluth Fire Department and hockey league organizer for 20 years, could provide a testimonial.
“If you saw video of Mark playing hockey there’s no way you’d guess his age,” said Youngblom. “This is not a doddering old man. He’s incredible. He can catch a pass on his stick and put the puck in the net. He looks like he belongs out there and he’s playing with guys much younger.”
A year ago, Sertich reached a milestone in turning 89, to set the family’s longevity mark. In reaching 90, his goal is to regain his skating form. He fractured two bones after stepping on a puck and going down hard on the ice. While he’s had other bumps and bruises, the only other serious setback was a fall at the 14-mile mark of the 2009 NorthShore Inline Marathon, suffering three broken fingers on his left hand and a sore left shoulder. That kept him sidelined for two months.
A doctor’s appointment Aug. 4 may provide the OK to resume exercising.
“I like to do things myself and be independent, and this injury has put a crimp in some of my plans,” said Sertich, the father of former St. Scholastica men’s hockey coach Steve Sertich, but no relation to former Minnesota Duluth men’s coach Mike Sertich. “I know how hard it is to stay in shape and I’m anxious about getting back. I’ve tried to stay active and listen to the doctor and my family.”
Betting against Sertich wouldn’t be wise.
“I have no doubt Mark will be back on the ice with us this fall,” Youngblom said.