McFeely: From UND hockey games to selfies with Obama, Mark Lindquist is singing Star Spangled Banner across the country and more
For Mark Lindquist, the Duke-North Carolina men's basketball game last week was pretty much his life in a nutshell. That is to say, there were a lot of things going on.
Lindquist, best known in the Red River Valley for regularly singing the Star Spangled Banner before University of North Dakota men's hockey games, was invited to perform the national anthem before the nationally televised and much-anticipated matchup between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
If that wasn't a big enough deal, that also happened to be the game when Duke star Zion Williamson blew out his Nike sneaker and made national headlines.
If those weren't big enough deals, that also happened to be the game when Williamson, likely the No. 1 overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft, injured his knee on the same play he blew out his shoe, also making huge national sports news.
And if that wasn't enough, it also happened to be the game where former President Barack Obama sat courtside in his now much-acclaimed bomber jacket and was captured by TV cameras saying, "His shoe broke" when Williamson's Nike disintegrated. Film director Spike Lee and retired baseball star Ken Griffey Jr. were also in the stands, although they took a backseat to the nation's most famous college basketball fan.
(You can hear Mike McFeely's interview with Mark Lindquist in the podcast below.)
"The convergence of events was phenomenal," Lindquist said this week.
Oh, and did we mention Lindquist worked up the courage to ask Obama to pose for a selfie with him? He did and the former president was happy to oblige.
Of the more than 700 times he's sung the national anthem at events small and massive — from humble beginnings at his hometown Ortonville (Minn.) High School football games and Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks minor-league baseball games to performing at a Thursday Night Football NFL game in Pittsburgh — Lindquist called last week "the pinnacle."
Lindquist admits becoming distracted midway through the anthem when he realized he was performing for a former president, but was proud he got through the song without stumbling.
"It was like, 'No, wait. You're in the middle of the song. You have to concentrate, man. Don't mess this thing up. The president is here,' " Lindquist said. "To be singing that song and to know a former president of the United States of America was in the audience was an unforgettable honor. ... It was amazing."
It continues an amazing stretch for the 37-year-old, who got his break singing at Newman Outdoor Field for the RedHawks in 2013. That turned into a regular gig singing the anthem at UND hockey games from 2014-17, including the Fighting Hawks' game at Madison Square Garden. In the past five years, Lindquist has sung the anthem for the NFL, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, NBA, WNBA, College World Series and NCAA Division I wrestling tournament.
And that's just his unpaid hobby.
Lindquist is also a sought-after motivational speaker who has worked with some of the largest corporations in the world (McDonald's, Microsoft, IBM, Walmart, Starbucks), he fronts a 17-piece, 1930s-style big band, he's appeared on hit TV series "LOST" and "Hawaii Five-O" and he writes books.
Like we said, a lot of things going on.
"To me the common thread is I get to perform and that's what I love, having a microphone in my hand or a camera in my face," Lindquist said.
All this from a Korean-born man who spent eight months in a Seoul orphanage before being adopted by a couple from Ortonville, a town of 2,000 people a couple of hours south of Fargo-Moorhead at the foot of Big Stone Lake. Gordon and Diane, of Scandinavian heritage, took Lindquist into their rural Minnesota home in 1982 and began a journey that would take their son to 44 states and 22 countries to speak, sing, entertain and inspire.
"When my 10th grade counselor was discussing what I could do in life, motivational speaker and entertainer was not top on the list," Lindquist said. "It was something I happened into because I used to watch my dad, Gordon Lindquist, give speeches around town. He chaired the meetings. When the pastor was gone at our Lutheran church on Sunday, he'd take over and do the sermon. So I grew up watching Dad do this, and I guess it rubbed off and now it is something I get to do all over the country. What a life."
After high school, Lindquist spent a year at Concordia College in Moorhead before joining the Air Force, where he served six years. Stationed in Hawaii, Lindquist toured with the Tops in Blue, an amateur touring ensemble of airmen that entertained the Air Force rank-and-file.
Lindquist was a Bob Hope-style singer, entertainer and comedian for the USO-style show.
After his discharge, Lindquist moved to Fargo and, at 32, made a career decision.
"I said, 'I want to make a living on stage. How can I do that?' " he said. "I worked my way into motivational speaking, started speaking to anybody who would sit still in the state of North Dakota in 2013. Five years later, we've built the fastest-growing motivational speaking business in America."
Lindquist recently moved from Fargo to Denver. He said he travels 300 days a year.
His national anthem singing also got off the ground in 2013. He performed for the RedHawks, which led to gigs with UND. That spurred Lindquist to contact regional sports teams like the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. When he landed those performances, he sent emails to big-time teams around the country. One of those was Duke basketball, which had Lindquist sing the anthem before a non-conference game the day before Thanksgiving in 2017.
Duke's marketing team contacted Lindquist again last year, but he turned down the Blue Devils by showing a healthy dose of gall. He said he'd only return to Durham if he could sing before a Duke-North Carolina game, one of the biggest rivalries in college sports. The school gave him last week's game.
His lifetime goal is to perform the anthem at a Super Bowl. It's probably best not to count him out.
"Who knew a kid from Ortonville, Minn., population 2,000, who graduated with 68 kids in 1999 ... could take that beginning and take it to the hottest shows on television, the largest crowds in America and the biggest companies on Earth? What a blessed life," Lindquist said, sounding an awful lot like a motivational speaker. "Maybe it's because at some point I was foolish enough to think I could and think it was possible."