I've known the Hustys for years. More than 20 of them. Brian, Mary's older brother, was one of my groomsmen. I watched Mary grow up and there was nothing I enjoyed more than watching Mary demolish her opponent in the pool. When the phone rung on that Saturday morning and the voice on the other end started telling of Mary's accident I lost it, completely lost it in a way I'm not sure I've ever lost it before.
The day before the call Mary was at swim practice. I think there were very few days that Mary wasn't swimming. You aren't that good without swimming as much as she did. If I remember correctly, practice was winding down as the team was working on their starts. Mary had dove off a block a thousand times, even thousands of times. But this time was different. She dove too deeply and hit her head on the bottom of the pool fracturing a vertebrae in her neck. While I can't imagine the scene that ensued I know Mary was unconscious and rushed to the hospital and into surgery. The months and, now, years following have been marked by intense recovery and rehab.
Peter and I drove up to Delaware Sunday night. We had the blessing of stopping by the Hustys and spending about an hour with Mary. While Peter's seen Mary a handful of times and run the race in previous years, Mary and I are pretty sure that we haven't spoken in person since the accident. To be honest, I think that sitting and talking with her was more for me than her. Since the moment I received the phone call about her accident I have desperately wanted to just hug her and talk to her. It's almost as if I needed to know she was ok and I could only know by seeing her for myself.
Mary's attitude over the past 7 years has been remarkable. It's not that there haven't been hard days, even dark moments. But she seems to always return to a place of patience, perseverance, and hopefulness. She refuses to give up. Rather she constantly pushes herself and whenever progress seems to stall, Mary pulls back, gets perspective and attacks from another angle. Sunday night she told me that her progress walking has plateaued so she's going to focus on strength training. I didn't sense a hint of frustration. In fact she smiled as she shared.
When the phone rang in January 2002, the incredible grief of a dream lost devastated me. It was if Mary's life crumbled in a moment and however it be rebuilt it would never resemble the potential she once possessed. I was completely wrong. Mary has never changed. The tragedy she experienced revealed the character of a champion that has always existed. There isn't one word to describe Mary. She is so many things. At the least, Mary is a peaceful warrior. It's as if her struggle is her joy. She's at peace with her life journey. And Mary is showing me how to better live mine.