As we were saying goodbye after a strength building Joint Integrity Aquatics Therapy class at Spaulding, one of the older ladies said to me, "God bless Mary. All good things."
Yes - all good things.
Tom and I have faced remarkable hardships before we met and have weathered many storms during our 37 years of being together. We've also known good things in our lives. Tom likes to talk about the kindness of a thousand strangers who he met along his journey to go from leaving home in Spain at the age of 17 and finding his way back to the United States to build a life for himself. I've had incredible earth angels who have blessed my journey.
In my soon to be released book, "Journey Well", I talk about one angel, Joseph Stetz, who gave me the courage to start...
“The seeds planted in our youth never die. They bide their time until it is time to bloom.” ~Mary McManus
The Courage to Start June 10, 2014
It took a lot of courage for me choose to run the 5K rather than opt for the 2 mile walk at the Father Bullock Charity Run Walk Shuffle. It was an evening race. I was unfamiliar with the course and it was a relatively fast field although the last two runners to cross the finish line in 2013 and 2012 were at a pace well within my reach. They,however, were not part of the field on Sunday evening as I brought up the rear in style with a motorcycle police escort.
I was reflecting on where my courage to start comes from. In reading Bill Rodgers, “The Marathon Man” and Dave McGillivray's “The Last Pick”, they talk about the people who lit that spark within them helping them to believe in themselves. When I was 9 and 10 years old, I went to Badger Day Camp in Larchmont, New York. My physiatrist, Dr. Eugene Moskowitz, who was helping me to recover from paralytic polio, suggested the camp because of its emphasis on being an all-inclusive camp, having a low camper to counselor ratio and critical to my recovery, a strong emphasis on swimming. I learned how to swim at Badger. I always felt a part of the Camp community. Counselors created an atmosphere of acceptance for all abilities. They encouraged me to do what I could do on the athletic field. They helped me to hone my archery and riflery skills where I could easily earn medals. My time at Badger was a healing balm for the violence my body endured every night. It was also a healing balm for the bullying and teasing I endured in school as a survivor of polio.
Joseph Stetz was on his way to becoming an Olympian. Instead, he gave up becoming an Olympian to pursue his career as a doctor. I can only imagine how many lives he blessed in his career as a cardiothoracic surgeon at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts. He was my swimming counselor and in my 2nd and what would sadly be my last year at Badger due to health issues related to polio, he asked me to swim the butterfly in the Badger Olympics. I thought he was crazy. He explained to me that there were only two other campers signed up to compete in the butterfly in my division. He said that it didn't matter what my time was. He wanted me to go out there and swim the best that I could possibly swim. He said that I was guaranteed my place on the medal stand and that I would earn my bronze medal (which as I recall was a plaque) for having the courage to swim in a race that no one else would would sign on for. How could I refuse him? He was about 6'2" tall and in amazing physical shape with an incredibly handsome face and warm brown eyes. He told me that he would help me train for the event. He coached me on my form and breathing. He helped me to find the courage to jump off the starting block into the pool and coached me on what form would give me the best start. He "got" me and what I needed in order to succeed mind, body and Spirit.
Badger Olympics Day arrived. He helped to calm my nerves. We both knew that one way or another I was going to finish the race. As
I write this I can still remember the tremendous effort it took for me to finish that race. But I did it! I proudly took my place on the medal stand. Joseph gave me his address on the last day of Camp and encouraged me to stay in touch with him. I wrote to him about the medical challenges I was facing and he wrote back beautiful letters of support. He was in medical school at the time. We lost contact through the years until one day in December 2004, I was reading the Boston Globe and saw his obituary. I was stunned for so many reasons not the least of which was I worked as a psychiatric social worker at St. Elizabeth's Hospital where he was on staff as a cardiothoracic surgeon. He died at the age of 62 in a single car accident a few months after he retired.
There is a Joseph Stetz Memorial Scholarship that awards $1,000 to “one male and one female graduating senior who will be attending college in the fall. Selection criteria include swimming accomplishments, academic achievement, community service, and an essay on how swimming has had a positive impact on your scholastic and personal growth, all as further outlined in the application.”
His legacy lives on in so many ways!
I know I found the courage to start running and take on the challenge of the Boston Marathon because of the seeds he planted in my youth. I have been blessed to finish every training run and every race I ever started. I'm sure he's been watching over me. Never underestimate the impact you have on another person. It's been 50 years since Joseph invited me to swim the butterfly in the Badger Olympics, yet to this day, because of him, I have the courage to start over and over and over again! What sweet rewards we receive when we have the courage to start!
On Thanksgiving Day, I will be running by St. Elizabeth's Hospital as part of the Boston Volvo Village 5K Road Race. I am aiming for a PR and I will feel Joseph's energy and his belief and confidence in my athletic abilities as I run. I am raising money and awareness for the Greater New England Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society running for those who can't so someday they will. Please help me reach my goal by donating to my personal fundraising page.
The first 7 years of my healing odyssey are chronicled in Coming Home: A Memoir of Healing, Hope and Possibility available on Amazon. I donate 50% of royalty payments to The One Fund Boston to help survivors and their families who were affected by the tragic events of 4/15/13.
My 2nd book, "Journey Well," is coming soon. 50% of book proceeds will be donated to AccesSportAmerica to help them continue their life changing programs: