Stories of Hope
Her Life Has Been a Real Good Run
Article date: December 12, 2001
If you don't do your exercise, you might as well give up. Exercise is the staff of life. I could sit down and not do anything, but instead I opened up a whole world of opportunity I never would have had. My life has been a real good run.
Cancer Survivor Breaks World Records for Her Age
Two years ago, Mary Bowermaster won a bronze medal for the 100-meter run (for runners 30 and over) at the National Masters outdoor championship in Orlando. Her running time was 11.60 seconds. She was 82 years old.
Perhaps it was a good omen that she was born in Wellsville, Ohio. Although she wouldn't have thought that when she turned 62. It was while taking her customary 3-mile run with her friend that she felt something in her breast that didn't seem right.
So Bowermaster got a mammogram. She was stunned to learn she had breast cancer; she had no history of cancer in her family.
Starts Walking for Life
In 1979 she had a bi-lateral mastectomy. She spent 10 days in the hospital and focused on the walking-fingers-up-the-wall exercise, which really hurt.
"Lots of cancer patients don't do their exercises, and many have arm problems later," she said. "They feel sorry for themselves and don't pull out of it. I tell them, 'do your exercises, stretch your muscles, and don't let up.' "
Then she had 17 weeks of radiation treatment (standard for that time). All the while she was taking radiation, she was walking. Her family was astounded and very supportive.
She encourages patients to exercise.
"Please, just walk around the block once, and next time you may want to do it twice," Bowermaster told ACS News Today recently. "Exercise makes a whole difference in your attitude and your recovery. Half of recovery is in your mind. You have to be focused on yourself and know what you have to do."
In 1980, the very next year after her surgery, she competed in her first National Senior track and field event in Sanford, Fla. And for 21 years, she has continued to compete.
Competes Against Herself
She had always walked or run, but tennis was something else. After the first five minutes on the tennis court she couldn't breathe. But she kept at it every day, and pretty soon she built up her strength.
Now she can just about outrun all of her younger friends (late 30s up to 60s) on the tennis court. Last summer, she took a bronze in the National Masters in Baton Rouge, La., moving down to the 75 age group, playing mixed doubles.
She really competes against herself. When she was 67, she held the Masters world's record for high jump at 3 feet, 8 inches, and kept it for three years. In Melbourne, Australia, someone beat her record, but she came back at age 70 to top her own record at 3 feet, 8 and one-half inches.
That record still stands 14 years later. When she was 70, she also broke the National Masters outdoor championship world's record in long jump: 11 feet, 5 and three-fourths inches.
There's Something About Mary
People want to be just like her, and she tells them, "You better get started. If you don't move it, you lose it." She's proud of her good, strong legs; but then, she's worked at it.
She takes good care of her legs to keep them in shape. In a daily warm bath, she massages her thighs, knees, legs, and toes. And when sitting, she kicks her legs up and down, and keeps weights by her chair.
"If you don't do your exercise, you might as well give up," she said. "Exercise is the staff of life. I could sit down and not do anything, but instead I opened up a whole world of opportunity I never would have had. My life has been a real good run."
Her passion has taken her around the world. Bowermaster attends all the Masters track and field meets and the National Seniors events. She fast walks 300 meters, and runs 100 meters. Since 1984, she has competed in nearly half the World Masters Games held every two years, traveling to Rome, Puerto Rico, and Australia.
As recently as 1999 in Orlando at the Nike's World track and field event, Bowermaster got four world's records in shot put, long jump, high jump, and 100 meters. Just a few days earlier, she won all her events in the National Seniors.
She admits to having slowed down some. For the 100 meters, she now averages 17 to 19 seconds.
She goes to all the meets with her friend and neighbor, Betty Neal, who's 70. "It's great to have a buddy. We can walk and talk, run fast, or discuss problems. We always get in our three miles." They're out at the track unless it's snowing, raining, or freezing.
Still, Bowermaster misses very few days in the winter. She has a total gym set up in the basement with treadmill, rowing machine, and a back machine. She enjoys her workout while listening to music.
Will Bear the Olympic Torch
Bowermaster retired from testing preschool to high school children for hearing and vision problems in the Hamilton school health department. But she still likes to surround herself with young people, and enjoys running with sixth graders and talking to younger people. "Makes me young," she said.
Her gift of youth has been noticed. She's been interviewed by Charles Kuralt, Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes, and by CNN.
She's been inducted in several halls of fame:
- Butler County, Ohio Hall of Fame, for sports, 1992
- Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, sports, any age, 1995
- Masters Hall of Fame, 1999
- Ohio Senior Citizen Hall of Fame, 62 years and up, 2000
But she's gained the biggest award of all. Every year she gets a mammogram, and every two years she takes a blood test. She remains cancer free.
Bowermaster has been given the privilege of running the Olympic torch through Covington, Ky., for 500 meters on Dec. 18, at 7:23 a.m.
"I'll be running the torch for my family, my friends, cancer survivors, and for people in New York City who lost their loved ones on September 11," she said. "We will persevere."