Friends of Mark Rebora say they’ll always picture him in perpetual motion.
Every day, he pushed himself by either running, swimming, skiing, canoeing or mountain biking — sometimes more than one, like when he ran triathlons.
As a coach and physical education teacher, he led challenging advanced fitness classes at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, where he’d tell students that achievement is the result of hard work.
“It’s just that simple,” he’d say. “Follow me!”
Mr. Rebora, who lived in Wheaton, died of a heart attack Sunday while riding his bicycle in Glen Ellyn. He was 57.
“I have received countless emails from students saying, ‘He made me a better man,’ ” said John Catalano, Glenbrook North’s athletic director.
“You’d walk past his office after school every day, and all sorts of different students — kids who might be struggling or thriving, athletic or not —everybody went to him for advice,” said Brad Nardick, a former Glenbrook North wrestler who now owns his own business. “He was kind of mythical at our school, a superhero quality. When I would have problems with a girlfriend, I could go to him. I ended up wrestling in college because of him, and he changed the whole trajectory of my life.”
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t go out and meet somebody that has either been taught by Mark or coached by Mark or inspired by Mark,” said his brother Steve Rebora, a Chicago architect.
Mr. Rebora began teaching at what’s now DePaul College Prep. He taught P.E. and coached football and wrestling from 1983 to 1992 at his alma mater, Loyola Academy in Wilmette, where he rose to head the physical education department. Then, he was at Glenbrook North for 26 years. He coached football, wrestling and boys’ water polo, Catalano said.
Young Mark grew up in Sauganash, attending Queen of All Saints grade school. He loved hanging out in the two-story playhouse, with a ladder, in his backyard in the 6200 block of North Forest Glen Avenue. His dad, who built it, christened it with a sign declaring it “Kaddywampus,” said Mr. Rebora’s sister Ellen Urquiaga.
Their rug-salesman father offered the kids carpet samples for the floor, but “Mark took carpet that was destined for a job that my dad was doing,” said another sister, Carrie Rebora Barratt.
She said their father was steaming when he found out Mark had tacked down expensive Berber carpet instead.
Even as a kid, Mr. Rebora was driven and loved to move. “He learned to swim by watching people on television swim at meets,” according to his mother, Joyce Kuhlmann Rebora.
By 16, he was lifeguarding at Foster Avenue Beach, where his mother said he helped “in quite a few rescues.”
At Loyola, he was the first wrestler to win 30 matches in a season. As a senior, he won the Catholic League title in the 155-pound class. He was “lightning fast, intensely focused and driven to succeed,” according to his Loyola Academy Hall of Fame biography. “He finished his prep career with over 100 wins.”
He went on to Cornell College in Iowa, where he continued winning titles. He competed against wrestlers Mark and David Schultz, whose story was depicted in the 2014 movie “Foxcatcher,” and he even tried out for the U.S. Olympic team, according to his wife Chris.
His son Cole called him “a real badass in a good way.”
“He was a self-professed adrenaline junkie,” Urquiaga said.
“He didn’t hold anything back,” Cole Rebora said. “Always pedal to the metal, 110 percent, everything he did — family, friends, partying.”
Mr. Rebora had a chipped tooth from biking that he didn’t bother to get fixed. Often, he sported a cut or two from shaving in a hurry. To style his hair, he’d run shaving gel through it, said his son Caid — the quickest way to get outside and get moving.
John Finan, the principal at Glenbrook North, said he’ll remember Mr. Rebora skiing — “the first one down the mountain, with a bunch of students and friends following him, shouting out in joy.”
At Loyola, “He was known as the Pied Piper of P.E.,” said Stanley Breitzman, a physical education teacher there. “He led aerobics classes with three classes in the gym, and he exercised with the music, just got them all fired up.”
Mr. Rebora liked boating in Michigan, where he’d fish for walleye and largemouth bass on Diamond Lake, then cook up a feast, sealing the fish along with potatoes and sausage in foil and serving it with lemon and hot sauce, his sister said.
He loved “cheesy action films,” said his son Cole, like the 1998 surfing movie “In God’s Hands.”
“I’m a searcher,” Mr. Rebora would tell his kids. “I’m searching in life for the next best thing.”
He is also survived by a brother, Tony. A celebration of his life is planned for 1 p.m. April 15 at Glenbrook North.