At a time when the NHL was forcing players to wear helmets as a form of protection, those who had gone without them prior to the implementation of the new rule were grandfathered to be allowed to continue to play without one.
Marsh chose to remain helmetless. Yes, that was a bit on the cuckoo side.
Fast forward almost two decades.
Marsh, who is not an experienced cyclist, decides he’s going to ride his bike from one coast of Canada to the other in the span of three months.
What, you might ask, was he thinking?
But, as nutty as it may sound, Marsh did it anyway. And it was an experience of a lifetime that he shared with his family and used to raise money for a popular charity in Canada.
But before we get to that biking expedition, you should know a little bit about how it came to be.
After all Marsh, 54, wasn’t exactly the picture of health as recently as a few years ago. The notion of riding a bike through the streets of Ottawa, where he now lives, was daunting, never mind across the entire country.
But, a business opportunity turned into a life-changing event for Marsh, and he has made it his trademark:
The 90-Day challenge.
Marsh was always known as one of the most competitive players when he spent eight seasons with the Flyers in the 1980s.
So, when given the opportunity to challenge himself in retirement, Marsh took the opportunity and ran with it.
“A couple years ago I got a call from a buddy to look at a new health product,” Marsh said. “I looked at it and was interested in it. While I was sitting there listening to the presentation I knew I had to do something about my health, specifically my weight, which at that time was 280 pounds.
“I was all ears. It was an opportunity to listen to some information about not only a health product but information about a new revenue source promoting the product.”
At the time Marsh owned restaurants in the Ottawa area, but the restaurant business wasn’t going very well. So, he wanted to give himself an opportunity to get more money coming into the house.
“I had four kids in college at the time,” he said. “The beginning of the end for me in the restaurant business was during the lockout of 2004-05. I couldn’t move the sales around to make it work because of the money I lost.
“Fast forward to my buddy getting me the opportunity with ViSalus Sciences. They promote a 90-day challenge to get yourself into better health over a 90-day period. With my athletic background I loved the challenge. So rather than going on the proverbial diet or hit the gym again, I started using the product, which is a simple meal replacement, vitamins and an energy drink, and in my first 90-day challenge I lost 30 pounds and started feeling better and at that point I felt like going back to the gym. When you’re fat and lazy the last thing you want to do is exercise.”
Marsh then began a second 90-day challenge, which was to continue to lose weight and also to begin to get in better shape. With each challenge he’d set a goal of losing weight or reducing my body fat.
“At Christmas (2010) time my boys bought me entrance into a 100-mile (160KM) bike race in the mountains of British Columbia,” Marsh said. “So, my fourth 90-day challenge was to get on the bike and start training. So there was a progression. You set the bar and work toward achieving it. With each challenge I keep raising the ante.”
After finishing the 100-mile ride, Marsh enjoyed it so much that he decided to test his bike-riding limits a year later – and bike across Canada.
Marsh was a member of the 1985 & 1987 Flyers teams that went to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I do a lot of work locally in Ottawa with the Boys and Girls Club,” Marsh said. “That charity in Canada flies very under the radar. Plus with it being my eighth 90-day challenge – the fifth, sixth and seventh were training for the ride – I wanted to ride across Canada and use it as an opportunity to both promote my health products and raise money for the Boys and Girls Club.
“The bike ride the previous summer that was 100 miles was the extent of my experience biking before the cross country trip. But if you go back to when I was playing hockey, I prided myself on being one of the better-conditioned athletes not only on the Flyers, but in the NHL.”
In the 1980s, before training to be a professional athlete was a year-round proposition, teams used to have awards that were given out to players who were in the best shape during training camp. The Flyers were no different.
“At each training camp we had the Bob Clarke trophy that was awarded to the player that was in the best shape,” Marsh said. “They don’t do that anymore, but back when I played, but it was a hotly contested award to win. You showed up at camp in top shape. We did the 2-mile run, bench presses, etc. and I prided myself on being in top shape.
“Unfortunately in retirement, I got out of shape and I made myself miserable, especially because I knew I had to do something about it. But with the stress of trying to make business work it was the last thing on my plate. For me to get back in shape and do something that was ‘out there’ is something that I relished and, not to sound corny, but it made me feel alive again.
“Ever since starting my first challenge, I always had something to shoot for, work hard for and try to attain. The ride was fabulous. It was everything I would have hoped for and more. It didn’t put a strain on my body at all because I was in great shape. There wasn’t one single day where I said to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”
Marsh built a lot of publicity for his ride through Canadian media mostly through his oldest son Erik, who built quite a following using social media.
“He was with me the whole time,” Marsh said. “He did the social media, the blogging, the texting and the writing. My wife Patti was with me driving the support car for the first week, which allowed me to ride with Erik. When I didn’t have a ride, he would drive the car. I’d leave in the morning he’d catch up, we’d re-fuel then he’d ride ahead 50 or 60 KM and then get on his bike, ride back to meet me on the road then we would ride together to our final destination for the day, which was really fun.
“My son Patrick joined us in the mountains just outside of Calgary and that was a lot of fun riding through the big climbs with him because he’s a speed skater who does a lot of biking for training, so it was neat to ride with an experienced biker. My daughter Victoria joined us in Ontario and drove the car through the province of Ontario, which allowed Erik to ride with us and my other daughter Madeline joined us in Kingston, Ontario and rode with us for a bit and then the whole family joined up in Halifax and all six of us did the Maritimes together along with my nephew from Southern New Jersey.”
A complete breakdown of the ride is available HERE on a blog written by Erik Marsh.
“It was such a great sense of accomplishment going from coast to coast,” Marsh said. “I also visited with kids from 31 different girls and boys clubs, so as I rode across Canada, I would stop at a Boys and Girls Club, get off my bike and play road hockey with them. So that was a real hoot. Looking back, that was something special to spend that time with all those different Boys and Girls Clubs on my trip.”
Marsh said the memories of the trip are incredibly vivid, and crop up at even the most random moments.
“During the ride, everyone would always check the Weather Channel so we knew if we could Barbecue or picnic or whatever, and now when we look at the weather forecast, we see it’s raining here, or snowing here or foggy here and we look at it and say, ‘oh I was there, it’s snowing there? Remember when we were there…’
“It’s quite amazing the stories that we created that relive itself not through sitting around at a table having a few beers with your friends telling stories but just by watching the simple weather forecasts. It’s been neat looking back on the trip like that.”
If you think riding cross country on a bicycle is the pinnacle for Marsh, then you better think again. Oh, he’s not done. Not by a long shot.
His ninth 90-Day Challenge is under way. He has challenged folks to join him this time in setting a goal and accomplishing it in 90 days. The goal can be anything – weight loss, quitting smoking, something that will take a lot of will power, but will also be a thrilling feat.
In the end, he’s going to bring people who reached their goal to Philadelphia in March.
“I don’t have a date set, because I’m waiting for the NHL schedule to be announced but what we were going to do is come to Philly, but also go to see a hockey game,” Marsh said. “It is a nice add on to the trip.
“My restaurants are now closed. My last one closed in 2011. So my wife and I do this full-time now. The neat thing about it is I talk to people, and there are some – middle-aged – who have never set a goal in life. They went to school because they were supposed to. They went to college because they were supposed to. They graduated and got a job because they were supposed to. They got married because they were supposed to, but they never set the bar for themselves. So it was neat talking to people and helping them set a goal – whether it was losing weight, or entering a 10K run or a marathon – I just had eight people on my team complete the Toronto Marathon. That’s a huge sense of accomplishment when you achieve something that you put your mind to. I have people on my team who have lost more than 200 pounds simply because they made a decision to do something abut their health.”
The ‘‘teammates’’ are going to pile into a couple of buses, come to Philly and celebrate in the only way that makes sense.
“We’re going to celebrate in true Philadelphia style by running up the Art Museum steps like Rocky, in the appropriate Rocky attire and have the music playing the whole time,” Marsh said. “When we get up there, each person can tell their story and tell what their accomplishment is. For some people on the trip, that might just be being able to walk up the steps. We take it for granted that we can run up the steps, but some people might only be able to walk it, whereas 90 days earlier, they wouldn’t have even been able to think about that.
“The dates will be set once the new schedule comes out… it would be great if it could be an Ottawa Senators game, but if not it would be great to just be any NHL game.”
Marsh was a Philadelphia treasure. He was an alternate captain on the teams that reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice in the 1980s before losing to the Edmonton Oilers.
He was a stalwart on defense who made his bones by being physical and taking away time and space.
Marsh was the 11th overall pick in the 1978 Draft by the Atlanta Flames. He came to the Flyers in a trade for Mel Bridgman in 1981.
He was captain of the Calgary Flames before being traded to Philadelphia, and he later played in great hockey towns like Toronto, Detroit and Ottawa, but he maintains that Philadelphia was a unique and memorable place to play hockey.
“First and foremost, when I was traded there, the attitude that was present in the dressing room, in and around the city and at the practice rink that this club was different then when I played with the Flames,” Marsh said. “I know everyone wants to win and works hard to win, but what was very evident was that the attitude in the Flyers dressing room was very different than anything I was part of before, or since and it was special to be a part of that.
“Being a part of the Flyers is what taught me or showed me how to be a true professional. I had things going for me in Calgary, but I was getting by then on my talent and raw ability, but it takes a lot more than that to get by for a long period of time in the NHL and it wasn’t until I became a Flyer that I learned what that was. I loved every minute of being a Philadelphia Flyer and I look back on those years very fondly.”
Marsh had a lengthy career, playing more than 1,000 games in the NHL, but never got to lift the Silver chalice that is the Stanley Cup.
“It’s the big question in Canada because everyone lives and breathes hockey,” Marsh said. “‘Did you win a Stanley Cup?’ The obvious answer to that is no. We came very close twice – in 1985 and 1987. But I look back on my Flyers years and I see in 1985, Bob Clarke had just retired and it was Mike Keenan’s first year as a coach and we had seven guys under the age of 21 on the team. Pelle Lindbergh was our goalie and we had no expectations at all that year.
“No one knew what to expect from us, but it wasn’t anything really good and we went out and proved everyone wrong and went to the Finals that year. It’s hard to pick out one game or a series. Those three years though from 1985 through 1987 were times when a lot of players, Dave Poulin, Tim Kerr, Mark Howe, Brian Propp, Pelle first and then Ron Hextall all came into our own – including myself. A lot of us had good careers, but it was during those years that we really came into our own. We all seemed to have the best years of our careers to that point and that set the tone for the rest of our careers.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37