Wheelchair can’t hold alumnus back from uphill success

A native of Waukon, Iowa, Markus Hawes is the Upper Iowa University Tutor Center manager. In 2011, five days after high school graduation, Hawes broke his C7 vertebrae diving into home plate during baseball practice. He was paralyzed from the mid-chest down, but that hasn’t stopped Hawes from going onto a successful career.

Markus Hawes ’18 is an incredible young man. That much is evident when you first meet the Upper Iowa University Tutor Center manager who is a paraplegic.

It’s definitely his upbeat and persevering attitude, despite an unfortunate accident that changed his life almost eight years ago, that makes him stand out.

In 2011, five days after graduating from Waukon High School, Hawes was at baseball practice when he got himself into a pickle between third base and home plate. Trying to avoid being tagged, he dove for home, collided with the team’s catcher, and broke his C7 vertebrae. Life was never the same after that moment.

“I was taken by ambulance to Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon and then airlifted to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.,” Hawes recalled. “After the accident, I spent six weeks at Mayo, where I pushed hard in physical therapy so I could get home. I was released on July 1, and I spent the rest of the summer at my parent’s house.”

Before being injured, Hawes had plans to attend Iowa State University to major in agricultural engineering. Not wanting his injury to stand in his way, Hawes decided to go forward with those plans and attended ISU that fall.

“I didn’t want my injury to hold me back, but going to ISU was too much too soon,” the Waukon native explained. “ISU is a huge campus, and I was new to being in a chair so there was just so much I still needed to learn about getting around. I ended up getting sick and dropping out. I spent the rest of the semester at home continuing to do physical therapy at Mayo.”

It was on one of those trips up to Rochester, Minn., with the family traveling through Decorah that Luther College caught Hawes eyes. Much closer to home, Hawes decided to continue his education as a Norse.

“I spent three years at Luther and often changed my major,” Hawes recalled. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Luther doesn’t have engineering, and I wanted to be an agricultural engineer, so the closest thing Luther had to anything in agriculture was biology. I started a biology class, it wasn’t really my thing, so I ended up dropping that class. I changed my major from biology to accounting to management to math and; eventually, math education, but that was at UIU. Before I switched to math education, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do still. I was flustered and all over the place, so I went to NICC for a semester to get my associates degree so I had something.”

The summer following his injury, Hawes was approached to be an

Upper Iowa University Tutor Center manager Markus Hawes helps Andria Kakacek, a junior mathematics education major from Solon, Iowa, with a math problem. Hawes oversees 16 student tutors that help other UIU students on a wide range of subjects.

assistant little league baseball coach. He loved it and the following summer he was made a head coach in the program. During this time, he started as a math tutor in the afterschool program at Waukon Middle and High schools. Because he enjoyed tutoring so much, he thought becoming a math teacher would be something he would enjoy. So, Hawes began looking into Master’s of Education programs which led him to UIU. It helped his best friend was already attending school there, plus they offered him a transfer scholarship, which made the decision all the easier.

“I came [to UIU] and loved the education department, but after taking some education classes i wasn’t looking forward to teaching secondary education,” Hawes recalled. “With my injury, when I have to use the restroom it is very immediate. I was always worried about my responsibility as an educator at the middle and high school levels and the supervision involved. If I would have to go to the bathroom I would need someone to cover my room. I could lose my job if I left the students unattended since they are minors. I figured secondary education wasn’t the way to go, so I switched over to a math degree. I finished my classes in December 2017.”

During his time at UIU, Hawes continued to work with the afterschool program in Waukon. Eventually, his boss resigned and Hawes, who admitted he wasn’t even going to apply for the position until someone encouraged him to, took over. He also worked in the tutor center at UIU, as well.

At the beginning of 2018, Hawes joined a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic that involved exoskeleton suits. He is also involved in another clinical trial that deals with the shoulder.

“[The clinical trial dealt with] the health benefits of using an exoskeleton for people with spinal cord injuries,” he said excitedly. “From January-March, 2018, I went to Mayo three days per week and walked around the hospital in an exoskeleton for about an hour. It was awesome! After the clinical trial, I submitted my final project and received my degree. That summer I made it a point to apply to one job per day.”

His experience in Waukon and having worked at the UIU Tutor Center when he was a student helped him earn the position of UIU Tutor Center manager when it opened over the summer.

“I am the main point of contact for any tutoring for any of UIU’s students,” the former Waukon baseball player said. “If anyone is looking for a tutor for any class, other than writing because there is a writing center at UIU, I can help. My first role was to get tutors to replace the seniors that graduated last year. I have 16 tutors, and what they major in is how I decide what subjects they can tutor.

“Changing my majors several times has helped me with this position because if there are no tutors available I can end up tutoring the student,” he added. “There is also an online tutoring platform that students have access to if no one on campus knows how to help. I have been in this job five months and I am loving it.”

When he got the job at UIU, Hawes decided to look for a home in Fayette. He lived with his parents for a majority of the time after the injury, only moving out to live with his best friend in Fayette during his final year of college. He found former Fayette Police Chief Richard Pisanti’s house on the market, and it didn’t take long for him to realize it was the house for him.

“This is the most accessible house I have ever seen, and I am just extremely fortunate that it was for sale and so close to campus,” Hawes explained with a bright smile. “There are no upper cabinets in the kitchen, and the microwave is built-in at a low level. The only thing I am going to have to do to make this house more accessible is remodel the bathroom downstairs. The house is already flat, as there are no door thresholds that I have to worry about.

“There is nothing as far as my daily living that I can’t do by myself,” he added. “Going through the injury taught me to ask for help a lot more. That is one thing I am glad I am not afraid to do.

The only thing that really slows Hawes down is snow.

“Anything more than an inch, and I am not going outside,” he closed. “I have had some pretty close calls and some pretty unsafe situations that I don’t want to get into again. It was moments where I didn’t have traction on the back wheels of my wheelchair, and I was kind of stuck in the middle of the cold weather. I make sure to avoid those situations as much as possible.”

Despite the snow making navigation a little tricky in the winter time, it’s Hawes positive attitude and perseverance that disguise his wheelchair.

(Editor’s note: This story was republished with permission of Fayette County Newspapers and news writer Chris Deback)


1 Comment on Wheelchair can’t hold alumnus back from uphill success

  1. Max Campbell // February 14, 2019 at 9:25 pm // Reply

    Nice going Mark. You must have gotten your work ethic from your ambitious mother. Keep moving ahead!

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