Record-setting Ohio wrestler Mark Zimmer, DeSales grad, fought ALS

Former DeSales wrestler Mark Zimmer, Ohio's first four-time state champion, dies from ALS at 59

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch
Mark Zimmer, the first four-time state champion in Ohio high school wrestling history, died on Tuesday at age 59, three years after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The former DeSales High School wrestler who never lost a state tournament wrestling match finally succumbed to a fierce opponent.

Mark Zimmer, Ohio’s first four-time high school state champion, died Tuesday after a three-year fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The Lewis Center resident was 59.

Zimmer made history in 1979 when as a 119-pound DeSales senior he collected his fourth consecutive title, a feat never previously accomplished in Ohio and one achieved only twice before by other wrestlers across the nation.

Thirty wrestlers in Ohio have won four titles since Zimmer, who had only one close call in four trips to St. John Arena. As a sophomore he was almost pinned but escaped and rallied to win in the third period.

Zimmer, who went on to wrestle at Wisconsin and Oklahoma, told The Dispatch in 2019, “I was very lucky in life. Like Forrest Gump, I showed up at the right time and the right place.”

Michael Zimmer was more effusive with praise of his older brother.

“He was my hero,” Michael Zimmer said. “People didn’t mess with me, because Mark would knock the crap out of them. Mark was one of those guys you hear about — the quiet one in the corner you didn’t want to mess with.”

But Zimmer also had a tender side, his brother said. 

“Mark sought out people who were not necessarily in the clique in high school. He would sit and listen to people, which was one of his greatest skills,” Michael Zimmer said. “He would tell me, ‘Everybody has a story they want to tell.’ There are always kids on the outside. But not to him.”

Brenda Zimmer said she witnessed that trait many times from her husband of 37 years:

“Whenever he saw somebody who needed something, he tried to fill whatever that need was,” she said. “Everybody mattered to him. That’s the type of man he was.”

Zimmer was diagnosed with ALS in May 2018 after experiencing muscle spasms in his arms and legs. He knew the disease was incurable, but vowed to wrestle it to the end. 

“We knew it was coming,” Brenda Zimmer said. “It’s been a hard, long battle against a horrible disease.”

roller@dispatch.com

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