‘THIS CHAPTER BEGINS’: Marine moves on and upward as he inspires swimmers at Destin YMCA

Marine Mark Zambon practices with a swim float between his legs on occasion to help with training the body to be in the correct position for the best speed in the water. “Nothing comes easy,” Zambon said. “If you set your sights on a goal, break it up into small sections that you can work hard toward and obtaining that will bring you to your bigger picture.”

Gliding across the blue pool water of the Destin YMCA, he looks like any other swimmer, until you realize he has no kick.

"All my propulsion comes from my upper body," said Marine Mark Zambon, who lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan a couple of years ago.

As for the rest of his body, his core and upper legs, Zambon strives to keep them as straight and flat as possible so as to not induce drag or friction to slow him down.

>> To see a video of Mark Zambon swimming at the Y, CLICK HERE.

"That's probably my biggest challenge," said the 28-year-old, who lives in Miramar Beach and is a Marine bomb technician at Eglin Air Force Base.

To achieve that straight position, he practices with a pool float between his legs.

"It sort of trains the body to be in the position I need … in order to have the fastest speed and no drag in the water."

Fresh off a successful finish in the Sandestin Triathlon, Zambon is training for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon on Sept. 8 in California. The triathlon will be Olympic length and consist of an 800-meter swim, 4-mile run and 20-mile bike ride. He along with two other injured Marines will be relaying the triathlon under "The Heroes Project," a nonprofit organization that works with veterans and military families on all levels. Zambon's portion of the triathlon will be the swim.

Since moving to the Emerald Coast in May with his wife, Marta, of one year, Zambon has been practicing at the YMCA. His efforts haven't gone unnoticed.

"He sets a wonderful example for athletes of all abilities and ages with his positive attitude," said Y coordinator Lisa Parchment. "I look forward to seeing him when he comes to swim and regularly introduce him to young people that I give swim lessons to. His encouragement to young children and his friendly nature are a blessing to everyone that uses the YMCA."

Zambon puts in the practice time. He does five pool workouts and one open water swim with the Emerald Coast Triathlon Club each week. In addition to his time in the water, he works out at the gym two days a week before work, plus he tries to fit in as much yoga as possible.

"It's challenging with work," he said. During his recovery, "that was the one point in my life when I could focus entirely … my day to day on physical training. I could train eight to 10 hours a day. But now that I'm back to work, it's difficult."


In 2011, Zambon was on his sixth combat deployment in Afghanistan. He and his team were moving on foot through an area where their had been signs of possible roadside bombs the week before.

“The lead sweeper was unable to detect it and stepped over it. When it was my turn, I ended up stepping on it and 10 pounds of explosives detonated under my feet and took off my legs then and there," Zambon said. "From there, this chapter begins."

That next chapter included months of rehab, some of which was training for a mountain climb up one of the world’s highest peaks as part of The Hero Project.

He trained about eight months before reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

"I didn't do it in these legs," he said sitting at the YMCA on Wednesday. 

Zambon has all sorts of prostheses. He has running prosthetics with curved legs and climbing legs that are straight with no bending knee and a carbon fiber foot. To conquer Kilimanjaro, he worked six days a week, doing two and three training sessions each. He hiked four days, swam twice a week, and did two weight training workouts a week plus yoga.

"Basically it made my recovery," Zambon said.

And making the climb answered the question that had plagued him since the explosion.

"Because I had lost my legs, is my life going to be lived less now because of it?" The answer was a “resounding no … not at all. I'm still very much a part of this and in a very wonderful way."


After the triathlon in California, Zambon says his training will shift to "maximum strength and ability in prosthetics, so I can be as competent in my job as possible."

Next on his list is to develop balance and strength. "If I'm going to be able to pick my wife up," that is something he will have to develop. "That's something she really loves and that's something I haven't been able to do yet … still bums me out."

Another personal goal is to dance. He recalls when he was in EOD school in 2005-06 he took dance lessons at the Fred Astaire dance school in Fort Walton Beach.

"I really want to learn how to dance again with my wife. I want to go down there with her and start taking dance lessons again," he said. "I can just imagine what it's going to feel like to get there."

The other thing on his must-do list is to ride a motorcycle.

"The little things in life are so easy to take for granted," Zambon said. "If you suffer a loss and work hard to get them back, you understand what it means to value them for how amazing they are.

"Our good health as people … you can never be thankful enough or put a price on it."