SCARBOROUGH – The hair is full and dark and thick now as Mark Endrizzi wraps up his high school athletic career.

Not dyed red or some other interesting hue and buzzed in garish fashion as was the case before every Southwesterns Swimming & Diving Championship meet for the past four years.

And certainly not completely absent — courtesy of chemotherapy — as when he entered kindergarten.

“Looking back at the weak little husk of a child that I was, a little hairless mass, I’ve really progressed to what I feel is past a normal life,” Endrizzi said as he contemplated the conclusion of his swim season in February. “Physically, I’m very fit. I really try to make sure that I stay fit and healthy.”

A senior at Scarborough High, Endrizzi rowed crew for Waynflete this spring after first dipping an oar in the water last year. His boat of four boys with a coxswain will race for the last time today on the Fore River in the annual Maine Youth Rowing Association Championships.

Waynflete and Yarmouth are the only schools in Maine to offer crew, so interested and committed athletes from nearby schools practice and row with those teams. Also competing today are boats from the Derryfield School from New Hampshire and the Newman School of Massachusetts.

Flyers Coach CC Stockly welcomes nine athletes from schools other than Waynflete to her program. Because of the extra effort required to attend practices and workouts, the non-Waynflete students raise expectations for everyone on the team.

“Because they really have to want to be there,” Stockly said. “Waynflete can be like a big family sometimes, and this is like visiting cousins. They liven things up. Make it fun.”

Endrizzi certainly is no wallflower. Stockly called him a talented rower who is extraordinarily coachable. She wished she had 20 of him. Oh, by the way, make sure to ask him about the prom.

“Last year’s prom?” Endrizzi said with big laugh. “Last year I took all (four) of the girls from the Girls One boat to the (Scarborough) prom. It was a lot of fun.”

KNOWING THE RISKS

Endrizzi’s name showed up four times in the results of the Class A state swim meet. He placed third in the 50-yard freestyle, fourth in the 100 freestyle and was a member of Scarborough’s 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, which placed sixth and fourth, respectively.

One place you’ll never find his name is on a detention list or in a police blotter. He’s no goody two shoes, but he is an honor student with a perspective on life and mortality uncommon among peers.

“I feel like I don’t have the ‘Won’t Happen to Me’ attitude that many teenagers my age have,” Endrizzi said. “They do so many things which they may know the potential consequences of, but pretty much ignore them because they go, ‘Oh, that won’t happen to me.’ I pretty much don’t do anything that would ever get me in trouble.”

GROWING UP … AT AGE 5

The seeds of such an outlook took root inside the belly of an active 5-year-old, the youngest of three children born to a pair of physicians. Peggy Pennoyer runs an allergy and immunology family practice. Her husband, Donald Endrizzi, is a shoulder surgeon.

At a routine physical shortly after Mark had learned to ride a bike, his pediatrician, Dr. John Goodrich, felt a lump on Mark’s left kidney.

An ultrasound confirmed one of the worst parental fears: a tumor. A rare type of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor, already malignant and spread to a number of lymph nodes.

“I still don’t know how John found it,” Pennoyer said. “He just did a really careful exam on a squiggly kid.”

The Stage III tumor had to come out, and with it the kidney. Surgeons operated within a day. Endrizzi spent two weeks in recovery at Maine Medical Center and another six months undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“So I entered kindergarten a bald little boy who was not allowed to play contact sports,” he said. “That was not fun.”

He remembers being tethered to a green backpack containing nutrients and medicine. A tube ran from the backpack to a spot near the crook of his left elbow, where he still has a small scar. His mother remembers a lot of vomiting, and wonderfully supportive teachers.

Through everything, Endrizzi missed only one day of kindergarten.

“The amazing thing about kids,” Pennoyer said, “is that you can slam them with so much, and they always feel like they’ll get better. It’s totally different when you treat adult patients.”

JOINING THE SPORTS WORLD

Athletically, Mark followed his brother Doug and sister Julie into the pool. Like them, he also earned a black belt in karate, although for sparring he wore a special protective pad over his remaining kidney.

At Scarborough High, Mark ran outdoor track, pole vaulted and did throwing events before, as a sophomore, he focused on swimming year round.

His swim coach, Eric French, mentioned Endrizzi’s penchant for singing on the team bus and lightening the mood with his smile and sense of humor. French also said, once in the water, Endrizzi is a fierce competitor with a knack for coming from behind to win. He was a near-unanimous choice for captain, French said.

“Frankly, I’d rather be ahead ahead the entire time,” Endrizzi said. “But it is always nice to say, ‘I’m behind. I have to catch up. I can’t not be where I want to be.’ “

No sooner had the words left Endrizzi’s lips than he began considering the possibility of cancer as metaphor. This come-from-behind thing. Maybe there’s more to it than athletic pursuits. Could this be his life’s lesson?

“I’m put at a disadvantage, and early on I fall behind,” he mused, “but I’m coming back, and I’m coming back strong.”

Endrizzi will follow his sister to Bowdoin, where he plans to row crew in fall and spring and swim in winter. She’s currently enrolled at Columbia Medical School. His brother, a Yale graduate, teaches English in China.

Engineering is an interest, although Bowdoin doesn’t offer a degree in that field. Medical school is a possibility.

Whatever the future holds, Endrizzi is ready to embrace it with a smile on his face, one oar firmly in the water and a tiny scar in the crook of his elbow to remind him how far he’s already come.

“One life is all you get,” he said. “Once that’s gone, it’s gone. So you really have to enjoy it and take care of it. So I do appreciate everything that I can.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH