The last time Lake Success Police Lt. Mark Staniszewski competed in the international Police & Fire World Games was in 2015.
At the time, he came out of retirement to battle depression – namely, from losing his 2-year-old son Jake to a pediatric cancer a year before, and his younger brother, Michael.
Then, shortly after that, he said he suffered a stress-related heart attack and never expected to battle again.
“The stresses have led to the heart attack and the other injuries I’m dealing with,” Staniszewski, 44, said in an interview. “I really thought I was done. I was retired.”
But Staniszewski returned this year, taking home a silver medal in judo and a world championship title in Submission Grappling.
The games, which took place in Los Angeles from Aug. 7 to Aug. 16, featured over 8,000 athletes representing 65 countries.
In judo, he defeated Marian Dorin of Romania and Alexi Davitashvili of Georgia, but lost in the finals to Andrey Botikov on Aug. 10.
But in submission grappling, Staniszewski bested Halldor Sveinsson of Iceland, Robert Krillic from Canada and Adam Barnhart, an American.
Staniszewski described the competition as “really intense.” He said players came from police and fire departments, paramilitaries, and even national teams and the Olympics.
“I never go in there with any expectations of winning. I just try to go in there and do my best and get the self-satisfaction out of actually having the courage to step in there,” Stanizewski said.
But just before Staniszewski left, he recalled his 9-year-old son Luke, who was six when his brother Jake died, embracing him.
“The day before I left for L.A., he gave me the biggest hug and wished me luck. I told him that he can be or do anything he puts his mind and heart into,” Staniszewski said. “I reminded him about election day last year, when I brought him into the polling station with me, wrote his name in on the ballot and cast my vote for him.”
Staniszewski added, “I told him back then… ‘that anything is possible if he believed in himself, even becoming president.'”
Staniszewski described his decision to compete again as last minute. He booked the flight to Los Angeles just 10 days before and called his doctor for a cardiogram and stress test. But Staniszewski said he couldn’t prepare much because of a severed foot tendon.
“I really didn’t expect to ever compete again and something came over me and I said I had to do this,” Staniszewski said. “It’s been two years and [I thought] if I don’t do it now, I’ll probably never do it.”
Staniszewski’s journey in judo and grappling began in high school, when he wrestled for his team. He then continued in college but said knee injuries ended his career.
Soon after though, he was introduced to judo, which he described as a wrestling and grappling type of martial art.
“I really fell in love with it,” Staniszewski said.
Staniszewski also trained in brazilian jiu-jitsu with former UFC champion Matt Serra starting in 1996, he said. This was back when Serra was “just coming up through the ranks.”
This all took him to tournaments and training throughout the country in both disciplines, he said. Staniszewski has also been coaching since 2002, teaching boys and girls judo, discipline, and how to face any challenge.
He then founded Team Believe MMA, a training facility for children, in 2015 in honor of his son Jake.
“It should translate from on the mats to off the mats and make you a better person,” Staniszewski said. “It made me walk with my head up high when I get up in the morning, running towards things I’m afraid of rather than away.”