Making a Mark

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News April 2014

PN recently lost a member of its family with the unexpected passing of freelance photographer Mark Cowan on Feb. 10. Mark began taking photos for PN and SPORTS ’N SPOKES (S’NS) in 1999, but there’s more to him than great photographs.

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He was born Jan. 8, 1973, in Tehran, Iran, where his father was directing a project for the University of Illinois. He moved to Urbana, Ill., with his family in 1974, spent his sophomore year at the John F. Kennedy International School in Berlin and graduated from Uni High School.

After entering the University of Illinois, he spent several months in Laos and Cambodia, developing a photographic record of international mine disposal efforts, which included the victims of mine warfare and the fortification of the Khmer Rouge.

Mark returned to the University of Illinois, where he was a staff photographer for the Daily Illini and editor/photographer for the Illio yearbook. He worked several years as a photographer at The News-Gazette in east-central Illinois before moving to Washington, D.C., to take a position as a photographer and editor at United Press International (UPI). Finding White House and Camp David photography assignments boring, he returned to the Champaign-Urbana area, where he worked as a freelance photojournalist for the Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg and UPI.

In sports photography, he worked for Illini Sports and UPI, regularly covering Chicago Bears, Chicago Bulls, Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers games, and the Kentucky Derby. During his tenure at the Daily Illini, Mark met Curt Beamer who introduced him to the world of wheelchair sports. Under Curt’s direction, Mark traveled the country to photograph national wheelchair sporting events for S’NS. Mark also covered the 2000 Sydney Summer Paralympics, the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Paralympics and the 2004 Athens Summer Games. In 2008 when Curt retired, Mark took over responsibility for PVA Publications photography.

PVA Publications staff refers to SPORTS ’N SPOKES as the “Sports Illustrated” (SI) of wheelchair sports. What we didn’t realize was that SI and S’NS shared a photographer! Icon Sports Media picked up Mark’s dramatic shot of the Tennessee Titans’ Kevin Dyson extending his arm toward the goal line in a futile attempt to score in the final minute of Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams, and it wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Mark had a wide knowledge of film that was backed up by an extensive collection of DVDs comprising foreign and American movies. In discussions of current or past films with him, you would almost always discover something interesting you missed.

He read widely, but his intellectual interests, spanning art and music, were focused through history, a love that he developed at an early age. Though eclectic in his musical tastes, Mark was a strong devotee of the lyric opera, which he attended regularly, his favorite composer being Wagner.

Mark had a friendly, laid-back manner that made it easy for him to talk to anyone. His quick wit and ironic sense of humor endeared him to people from all walks of life.

Mark Cowan was a friend, a professional and one hell of a photographer. To view Mark’s work published in Sports’N Spokes over the years, visit


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Making a Mark


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