Updated: Apr 4
Mark Haffner – Ziggy Kahn Honoree
By Janice Lane Palko
You can call Mark Haffner many things—a life coach, motivational speaker, tennis coach, licensed massage therapist, fitness trainer and author—but one thing you cannot call him is a quitter.
Haffner, 57, of Squirrel Hill, will be honored on May 2 with the Ziggy Kahn Award at a banquet that will be held virtually due to the pandemic. Haffner will be presented the award by The Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Western Pennsylvania, which was established in 1982 at the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh.
The award is named for Joseph “Ziggy” Kahn, who grew up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh and who was not only a World War I veteran, but was also a gifted athlete in several sports, a coach, mentor, and community leader.
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Like Kahn, Haffner has done a variety of things with his life. He grew up in Squirrel Hill and attended Taylor Allderdice where he played hockey. Although he struggled in school due to a learning disability, he nevertheless graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.
“In 1995, I was working in Real Estate when I was heading to an auction when a driver fell asleep at the wheel in the Liberty Tunnel causing an accident that severely injured me,” said Haffner, who endured months of rehabilitation and credits the OVR (Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation) for giving him his life back. That experience gave himself something else as well—a new direction for his life.
Haffner, who is married to wife, Shelly, and the father of Lauren, a freshman at his college alma mater, the University of Maryland, became a professional and certified tennis coach, personal trainer and senior fitness instructor. Over the decades, he has worked with children as young as two and seniors over 100 years of age.
When he was 44, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, but he kept doing what he was doing, but the treatments left him so weak, that he strengthened himself by doing Pilates, which he subsequently became fully trained in. He also channeled what he learned in overcoming all these obstacles into becoming an NLP and ICF certified Life Coach and wrote a book about his experiences in 2008 called Overcoming the Odds.
Haffner has coached tennis for decades, hosted camps for kids all over the area from Shady Side Academy to the Jewish Community Center and has given motivational talks and has mentored numerous clients. “I tell people I wasn’t born to do this; I had to work at it,” said Haffner.
He also travels throughout the area teaching seniors fitness. “I find the seniors I teach very motivated and eager to participate. They have a desire to remain active and independent,” Haffner said.
When he learned he was going to receive the Ziggy Kahn award, Haffner said he was humbled. “I love doing what I’m doing and bringing joy to people,” said Mark. “I love working with people who lack self-confidence and seeing them flourish.”