39. Dreams

39. Dreams

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners


Follow your dreams, for as you dream you shall become.
 ~Author Unknown

Everyone dreams.

Mary Peck’s dream was to make it to the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She was a great runner, and certainly had every right to believe she could make it.

At the tender age of twenty, her confidence was only surpassed by her talent, and Mary had this uncanny way of making all who knew her believe too.

Mary also suffered from an eating disorder. She was anorexic. Unnaturally thin. Mary lived with the continued emotional pressure that goes along with this condition. It consumed her. Through it all, Mary ran. Running became her oxygen, her reason for living. And marching with the athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics was her goal, ever-present in her mind. She trained every day as though she’d already made the team. If you called her and got her voicemail, you’d hear, “Sorry I’m not here to receive your call personally, but I’m out training for the 2004 Olympics. Wish me luck and leave a message.”

I became Mary’s chiropractor in early 2001. In addition to her eating disorder, she also had a chronic back problem. I often wondered if her back pain was a by-product of her emotional pain. Either way, Mary responded well to having another person care for her. She’d come in three times a week for treatment and our standard five-mile run, while her grandmother who drove her would sit in my waiting room and wait for us to return. I needed the training, making this the perfect co-dependent relationship.

Some days were easier than others. On a good day, we’d chat and laugh, just like old friends would do. On not-so-good days, we’d be silent for six miles. I often wondered what she was thinking, as the silence would sometimes be distracting. But, I practiced silence on these runs, and usually let Mary dictate how much conversation we’d have.

There were two hiatuses in our relationship. One in 2001 and another in the spring of 2002. On both occasions, Mary went to Arizona to an eating disorder camp. Both were expensive, but those who loved her were excited she was going. After the first camp, Mary seemed better. Upon her return, she smiled and talked more on our runs. Unfortunately, this change would slowly fade.

In early 2002, Mary returned to Arizona for a second tour of the camp. Our hopes were that more was better, and each visit might add to her prior gains. Upon Mary’s return from her second visit, she was great. We all held our breaths with optimism.

Until that bright and sunny June day when Mary and I had a treatment and run scheduled. “Mary, what would you like, four or five miles?” I asked. “You decide,” she stated. For unknown reasons, I chose five miles. But, this particular day, I cut our five miles short as my wife, Trudy, wanted me to run with her when I returned to the office. I asked Mary if she minded cutting it short, and of course, she didn’t. That was Mary. Surprisingly, this was the first run in many months that Mary responded positively when asked how she felt. I smiled. We finished our run, said our goodbyes, and Mary left with her grandmother.

The next morning, while at my computer working, Trudy gasped at the morning newspaper. There was a picture of Mary’s bicycle helmet and two state troopers. “20-Year-Old Cyclist Killed By Dump Truck.” My mind raced; what time did I run with her? Could it be another Mary Peck? Regardless of the questions, none of the answers helped. When all the dust settled, the truth was evident; this was our Mary.

Mary’s grandmother had let her out of her car halfway home to ride her bike the rest of the way. Tragically, Mary was hit by the right front end of a dump truck. She was killed almost instantly.

From an Olympic hopeful to a fatality in the blink of an eye. Needless to say, I couldn’t help but wonder, what if we’d run the full five miles? Or, what if I had decided four miles from the start?

Mary had made many friends in the running community in her short lifetime. The trials she faced and the fight within her every day made all of us proud beyond words to have been a part of her life. Why this could happen to someone who fought so hard, there were just no answers.

Mary’s family elected cremation with final residence in the wall at the National Cemetery. The following Tuesday, one week after my final run with Mary, I re-ran the same course. This run re-defined the word “alone.”

Dreams are bigger than life. They can make the impossible become possible. Most would have cried and accepted Mary’s tragic ending as her final chapter. Not her dad. “I watched Mary prepare every day of her life for the opportunity to march with the athletes in the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and I wasn’t about to let it not happen,” said Richard Peck.

Richard Peck is a pilot. Surprisingly, he had an opportunity to fly another female Olympic swimmer to a destination that she “had” to be to. She was so worried she wouldn’t get there in time, and it shocked her that someone would willingly fly her there on their own time. She could never have imagined the resolve in the heart of Richard Peck to help Olympic athletes. “How can I ever repay you?” was all Richard needed to hear in order to implement his plan for Mary.

The plan was that the captain of the soccer team would be the one to represent Mary. Mary was also a star soccer player in high school, and this was the perfect arrangement. This plan fell apart when the soccer team wasn’t able to take part in the opening ceremonies due to a game scheduled at the same time. This “problem” opened the door to a much bigger opportunity.

Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, a member of the WNBA All-Decade Team and the current head coach of South Carolina was selected for the greatest opportunity imaginable. She would be the flag bearer for the United States in the opening ceremonies. She would lead our country into and around the stadium.

On August 13, 2004, Dawn Staley and Mary Peck met for the first time. They led the country in the marching of athletes at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Richard Peck provided Dawn with a heart-shaped necklace holding a small container with Mary’s ashes, as Dawn proudly participated in the greatest event on Earth. Everyone who knew and loved Mary cried and smiled while watching such a spectacle.

No one could have written this story, or even predicted this turn of events. However, Mary Peck made it to the marching of the athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics, just as she had dreamed, proving once again, dreams do come true.

~Dr. Tim Maggs

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