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A Winning Spirit: Marc Cote '91 Exemplified the True Meaning of Victory

Each school day, a steady stream of students walk through the doors of Thornton Academy’s atrium. Whether coming or going, each one steps beneath the Victory Bell and past a plaque placed at eye level in the bricks. It reads, “Patience, perseverance, and sacrifice are your path to success. Embrace the journey. In loving memory of Marc Cote, Class of 1991.” The plaque, a gift from Marc’s family to honor his life and legacy, is simple and unassuming, but its message is poignant— especially to those who knew him. 

Marc’s sister, Paula Cote Scully ’89, remembers how incredible and exhausting her brother’s wake was. “For five straight hours it was a constant stream. I don’t think I sat down many people and so many stories.” Marc was beloved, admired, and respected by many, having overcome tremendous odds to achieve his goals and live a life of meaning. He passed away at the age of 30, ten years after sustaining a traumatic spinal cord injury during his sophomore year in college. 

Due to his injury, Marc was unable to move his body from the chest down. He travelled to a rehabilitation hospital in Denver, Colorado that specializes in spinal cord and head injuries. From the moment he arrived he was determined to regain independence, and adamant that he would not be confined to his room. Paula recalls how clear he was about the importance of freedom and mobility. Throughout his healing journey, Marc stayed committed to his goal of independence, and to fulfilling his dreams of working in sports management. 

His physicians described him as an anomaly, ever surprised by how well he functioned, despite his level of injury. Witnessing her brother overcome challenge after challenge helped Paula truly appreciate the concept of mind over matter. “He fought to get his wrist movement back through rehab so he could drive... he just kept telling us, ‘I am not going to let this define me.’” Figuring out a way to overcome obstacles while staying positive and kind is what most people remember about Marc. But he showed these qualities long before he got hurt. 

Marc was an All-Academic student-athlete, and he gave the teams he played for everything he had, especially his fellow Trojan football players. While Coach Agreste may not have named him the MVP, Paula remembers him commenting on Marc’s love for the game. “He said he wished Marc’s heart was in every player on his team. No matter what, Marc showed up for practice; he got tackled, picked himself back up, and did it again... he cheered people on and gave them courage.” 

Time and again, Marc’s family learned about the impact he had on people. When the community came together to build an addition and ramp on their house, one particular donation caught their attention—a $5 check enclosed in a letter describing Marc’s kindness. It came from an elderly woman who lived nearby and had once been on Marc’s paper route. She described how he would knock on her door each day to ask if she needed any help, and to hand deliver her paper. “We never knew that,” smiled his sister, Paula. “He was just good.” The goodness Marc displayed on both his paper route and while huddled with his team on the football field was a large part of what made him such a resilient and well-loved man. 

Marc was loved by an amazing group of friends and teammates who rallied together to support him. His buddies referred to themselves as his “pit crew,” and they made sure to include him in their shenanigans, even when transportation was challenging. “They would roll up to our house in two cars, yell, “Let’s go, Cote!” and take off to the Old Port for the night—after safely transferring him into the car, breaking down his wheelchair, and throwing it in the trunk, of course.” Much like Marc had done for his teammates at TA, they made sure he knew he was appreciated, supported, and never felt alone. Jeff Surran ’91 often remembers his friend’s infectious can-do spirit and positive outlook. “He truly made lemonade out of lemons. He was smart, capable, always dependable—a true role model in every way. Most importantly though, he was my friend. He is missed, even after all these years.” 

Always ready to face another challenge, Marc returned to college a year after he was injured. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and promptly set off for Knoxville, Tennessee where he earned a master’s degree in sports management. However, on his return trip to Maine he met another challenge when an accident caused his van to flip and he was thrown through the front windshield. Again, Marc found himself in the ICU, this time with a broken pelvis. And again, he pulled through. His friends often joked that Marc was like a cat; he faced several other medical challenges that threatened to take him, but every time he rallied and pulled through. 

Marc never stopped pursuing his dream of working for a professional sports team. He consistently applied for jobs and was even offered a position with an NFL team, but challenges around accessibility got in the way. At the time of his death, he had secured an internship and was working with the Portland Pirates. As always, the people around him admired and respected his tenacity and determination. At the end of his wake, the Pirates’ captains and general manager came through the receiving line and shared the entire team's condolences. “The general manager pulled my parents aside,” recalled Paula. “He said he wished all of his employees and players had half of Marc’s spirit and heart.”

Marc’s nephew and namesake is a freshman at Thornton Academy this fall, with his sisters soon to follow. They will join several family members who have worn the maroon and gold, including their mom, Paula; aunt, Michelle Cote Houser ’86 (Marc’s other sister); and three cousins. They too will walk beneath the Victory Bell, but their footsteps will bring them face to face with a reminder of their uncle. Paula hopes that they, along with every TA student, remember that victory is so much more than winning a championship. “Before his accident to the day he died, Marc showed compassion, perseverance, and determination. He taught us that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. That’s my brother’s legacy. That is his greatest victory.”