Making History

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February/March 2020

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Making History

How this Local Woman overcame Polio to Become an

Endurance Athlete and

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100 Pennsylvania Avenue • Centreville, MD 21617 • 410.758.0999 400 Marvel Court • Easton, MD 21610 • 410.822.7344

Champion for Queen Anne's County and

Women's History

Making History: How this Local Woman overcame

Polio to Become an Endurance Athlete and Champion for Queen Anne's County and

Women's History By Marcus Hoffman

The disease can affect various parts of the body and can cause a variety of complications depending on the part of the body affected. If the brain or lungs are impacted, for example, polio can be life-threatening. The first one to come down with polio was Mary Margaret’s cousin. By the next day, Mary Margaret and her little sister were rushed to the hospital to begin treatment for their polio before it was too late. “I remember being in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and thinking ‘Wow, this is so cool!’... I think the sirens are what got me excited... and of course, I had no idea how serious polio was,” Mary Margaret told me.

After arriving at the hospital, Mary Margaret’s excitement began to wear off, and she wondered where her cousin was. Soon after I began speaking with Mary Margaret, I realized She knew he was taken to the hospital before her, but now she was anything but unassuming or usual. I asked her to that she was there her cousin was nowhere to be seen. start at the beginning of her story, and her aliveness and Mary Margaret would only find out later that the polio had personality immediately shined through. Without shame spread to his lungs, and he had been placed in an iron lung. she told me that she was a problem child, “From the beginMary Margaret and her sister spent a week in the hospital, ning, no one could stop me from getting into trouble and receiving painful spinal taps to determine the level of causing mischief. I was always doing things that I wasn’t polio. The needle they used was just terrible looking...I supposed to - sometimes things that were dangerous - but was the big sister and even though I was scared, I had to that’s just who I was.” Mary Margaret, ever the trouble maker, was kicked out of two private Catholic schools before stay strong for my little sister’s sake.” After a week of isolation, Mary Margaret and her sister were sent home to recovreaching adulthood. er. Her cousin, however, passed away from the disease while they were in the hospital. Despite being a rowdy and disobedient child, Mary Margaret grew up in a strict military family. She was born As Mary Margaret entered her teenage years, she heard a in 1937 and grew up spending much of her young years story of a girl who swam Lake Tahoe and she developed an with one or the other of her strong grandmothers. When interest in swimming. Her strict parents, however, hoped Mary Margaret was just out of 3rd grade, she, her little the adventurous Mary Margaret would have more sister and their cousin went swimming in a pool on a military base. At the pool, a Great Dane was allowed to jump professional aspirations, and they did everything in their power to steer Mary Margaret away from becoming an into the water with the children, and, being children, they athlete. She decided to wait until she was in college in Los thought nothing of it. Within 24 hours all three of them Angeles. She also began having problems with one knee had contracted polio. and while waiting for surgery she was put in a full leg cast. Polio, now effectively eradicated in America, is a serious infection that generally causes mobility problems. This is the same condition that infamously confined President Franklin Roosevelt to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

manager of the hotel that she needed to practice to strengthen her leg. Mary Margaret knew that a nice, still body of water would be a perfect place to strengthen her legs—just like hydrotherapy but with the added benefit to practice swinging, her love.

After the surgery she could not bend her knee and needed physical therapy. She could not stand the pain of physical therapy and became determined to do her own physical therapy by swimming. She got permission from the doctor to do swimming therapy for three weeks. If it did not improve so she could bend her knee and walk normally, she would return to physical therapy. Every day Mary Margaret left classes and went to The Roosevelt Hotel, a world-renowned hotel loved by Hollywood celebrities. It was winter season and the heated pool went unused, and she convinced the

Over the next three weeks, Mary Margaret swam for more than five hours a day, every day. She started by walking in the water and putting pressure on her damaged leg… just like in hydrotherapy. Then after she built some strength back in her leg, she would use the kick board to kick swim laps in the pool for hours on end. Then she turned to swimming regularly, lap after lap. Just as important as saving her leg, Mary Margaret came to realize that she was capable of swimming for long periods of time, even hours, without stopping. The realization of this ability brought Mary Margaret closer than ever to her dream of becoming a long distance swimmer. Within a year, Mary Margaret made her first long distance swim. This first trial was from

Malibu to Santa Monica, a dozen-plus mile swim, which she says was a “piece of cake.” Her parents were completely unaware of this new career. Mary Margaret was on her way to becoming an athlete, just as she had dreamed. Now that Mary Margaret knew she could swim long distances, she wanted to attempt something a little more challenging - and something that would garner more attention for her.

She set her sights on The Catalina Channel, a 25 mile stretch of water separating Catalina Island from mainland California. The

location is an important site for long distance endurance swimming and is now one of three parts of the long distance “Triple Crown of Open Waters” swimming challenge. The swim is famously difficult. Not only was there 25 miles between Catalina Island and California, but the area is rough with harsh currents. Those who completed the swim from California to Catalina Island actually swam more than the 25 miles as the current would push them around in different directions and force them to correct their course, adding more distance to the 25 miles. To reach the beach where she would begin the swim from the mainland, Mary Margaret had to climb down a 400 foot rock and dirt cliff. A crowd formed at the top to watch her begin the swim. Included among the crowd were some of her father’s friends, who had all promised her that they would not tell her father about her swim. Every swim of this kind has an accompanying boat to help guide the swimmer. The idea was that the boat would wait off the beach for her to start the swim and there was also a surfer on a paddle board swimming right next to her. All seemed well when the swim started, with Mary Margaret

thinking it was her boat standing out in the bay. As she was swimming it took about an hour for Mary Margaret to realize she was following another boat that was not her guide. Mary Margaret knew she had no other choice but to turn back to the beach. The challenge she faced quickly evolved from “Swim the Catalina Channel” to “Find the Shore.” Those on the guide boat became nervous. They knew they had failed to pick the correct spot to meet her offshore. They had no idea where she was but knew she was somewhere out in the water. They notified the Coast Guard and they instituted a search by boat and helicopter. Mary Margaret had begun her swim after midnight so as to swim with the tide. Now as she turned back she had to swim against the tide. The beach was difficult to find and it was sometime about 3:30 in the morning when they finally returned to shore. Now they both had to ascend the cliff, just as she had descended to reach the shoreline. She climbed to the top of the cliff with dirt and small rocks sticking to the grease she was covered in for the swim. It was more difficult for her guide because he had to drag his surf board up with him as they climbed. Reaching the top, they encountered a massive field thick with tumbleweeds and a mansion in the distance. Even though neither of them had shoes, they proceeded to head barefoot, still covered with grease and dirt and collecting tumbleweed thorns, towards the beautiful mansion. Mary Margaret knocked on the stranger’s door at 5 in the morning and said, “We need to call the police.” The man replied to her, “We sure do.” The Coast Guard knew that she had gone "missing" during her swim. To this day, Mary Margaret does not know how or why the Coast Guard thought to call her parents who lived hundreds of miles away. The call was made in the

dead of night and it was the first they knew of her long distance swimming. To get the call that “your daughter is missing in the Catalina Channel and we have a helicopter up looking for her” was not something they could have ever imagined. They thought their daughter had given up on dreams of being an athlete. Not only had she not given up - she was even trying

The Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory Foundation Works to Restore Historic Property into Women’s Musem The Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory Foundation was formed as a way to save and restore an important historic property that would have long-term public benefits. That historic property is the Bloomfield Property in Centreville. Queen Anne’s County acquired the 318 acre agricultural property in 2008, and then dedicated it in 2010 as the new county park named White Marsh. Included in the property was an historic home dating to 1760. After years of disuse and deterioration, initial plans were to tear down the house. The Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory Foundation Inc. is a public benefit corporation. The foundation’s purpose is two-fold: to restore the building so it can be used as a museum; and, to operate the museum specifically to display, discuss, and present the history and accomplishments of Maryland women who supported or contributed in significant ways to the life and culture of Maryland. The history of women will offer information, stories, art and more on the lives and contributions of women to humanity and to their communities. Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory, one of the original owners of the home and the woman after whom the organization was named, played a key role in women’s and local history. She inherited the house in the 1800’s, but was forced to sell the property due to financial difficulties. Ultimately, Mary chose to take matters into her own hands. She published a book about the history of Queen Anne’s County (sold at only $2.50 apiece) and used the profits from the book to purchase the beautiful mansion at the turn of the 20th century. The beautiful property be turned into a museum and also used to host events and camps and to offer meeting and conference space for events that celebrate the women of Queen Anne’s County, both past and present. The museum is scheduled to open in August 2020, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment; the amendment that gave women the right to vote. If you would like to learn more about the museum or to learn how you can help, visit https://mebefoundation. org or contact Mary Margaret Revell Goodwin, MEBE Foundation president: by mail at P.O. Box 557, Centreville, Md. 21617; or, by phone at 410-725-6782.




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Just 100 years ago in 1920, the 19th amendment was passed by Congress, giving women across America the right to vote. To commemorate this important anniversary, the Shore Update and the Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory foundation (M.E.B.E.) are teaming up to declare 2020 the “Year of the Woman.” To celebrate, we’ll be shining the spotlight on a woman from Queen Anne’s County who has made an impact on our community. If you know a local woman who you believe deserves to be nominated you can go to www.ShoreUpdate. com/yearofthewoman. To learn more about the M.E.B.E foundation and the upcoming museum of women’s history visit YEAR OF THE WOMAN presented by Chaney Homes, Mattress Store, Kiddie Academy Kent Island, Kentmorr Restaurant, Bee Happy Tanning Spa, Alternative Therapy MD and the Shore Update

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dangerous 25 mile swims in the ocean and more determined than ever. My parents were furious.

And they said I could either come home and stop all this nonsense or forget I knew them. I didn’t believe them and said I wanted to continue swimming.”

Mary Margaret's parents would not speak to her again for over a decade.

By the time Mary Margaret was semi-reconciled with her parents she was married but was still swimming and into athletics.

After completing swims across the U.S., Mary Margaret’s passion for swimming and breaking records only grew stronger. She decided that she wanted to travel to Europe for major swims. Mary Margaret grew up hearing epic war stories from her military family, and she dreamed to not only go there herself, but to become a part of history. By 1962, she had been able to get sponsors for important swims across Europe. Mary Margaret first set her sights on the Strait of Gibraltar, a major body of water separating The Iberian Peninsula and Northern Africa. Mary Margaret says that the swim is the most exciting she has ever done. “Today’s level of pollution did not exist back then, you could really see everything. I had a huge swordfish swim by and saw massive groups of sea turtles. I could even hear the whales calling to one another beneath me.” While in Western Europe, she also

attempted to swim the English Channel multiple times, but each time ran into a different problem. After three attempts, she decided it was not meant to be.

your car until you're able to walk a mile. So I said I

wouldn’t until I had walked five miles.” Within weeks, the walking turned into running. And within six months, Mary Margaret had gone from being at-risk of becoming paraplegic to running 10k’s. She started training with coworkers on the paths surrounding the Pentagon; over time, she was able to run further and Then Mary Margaret turned her further. attention to swims in Turkey. Located in between the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, the After 13 years of working for the Pentagon and months of country has a variety of amazing swims. For example, there running, Mary Margaret went to a retirement party for a is a strait called the Dardanelles, an incredibly thin strip of coworker. There, she announced that she would also be water know as Hellespont that lies between European Tur- retiring to become an athlete again. This time, her sights key and Asian Turkey. This strait is considered by some to were set on becoming a long-distance endurance runner. be the birthplace of modern Mary Margaret’s co-workers laughed at the 40-year-old in open-water swimming; in 1810 the author Lord Byron disbelief. Just as she had done before, however, Mary Margaret would prove the doubters wrong. swam the length of the strait. Interestingly, just like Mary Margaret, Lord Byron suffered with issues in his legs and also walked with a limp and shared a natural inclination for And as before, Mary Margaret was not just interested in athletics, she was interested in the world. This time instead swimming. While in Turkey, Mary Margaret also swam the of focusing on Europe, she set her sights on the Far East. To length of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmora. She successfully completed all of the swims she attempted through- help secure a sponsorship, she would first need to complete out Europe, with the exception of the English Channel. Her a run within the United States. She chose a 200+ plus mile run from Los Angeles to Lake Meade, just outside of Las biggest victory was the double swim of the Straits of Messina, from Sicily to Italy and back, the first woman and first American. Eventually, Mary Margaret completed enough important swims across Europe and the Middle East that she felt it was time for her and her husband to return home. She was recruited for a job at the Pentagon, working with the Navy’s environmental and conservation projects. It would be easy to think that at this point that Mary Margaret’s accomplished athletic career was over. She had set a variety of records and firsts in her twenties, and was now settling down into a professional career as she aged into her thirties and forties. The “average”person would be done, but… Mary Margaret is no average person.


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In 1973, Mary Margaret's post-polio syndrome returned, and she began experiencing

severe pain in her legs and back for which she was hospitalized and rushed into surgery. She was told that had the surgery not been done, she would have become a paraplegic within a few ,weeks. To help recover from her surgery, it was recommended that Mary Margaret follow a light regimen of exercise.

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Vegas. Traveling with her was her loyal dog, a German Shorthair Pointer named Velia.

With this impressive run in America under her belt, Mary Margaret began looking for a sponsor. She had a lofty goal for this next run; she wanted to run the entirety of Japan. She was able to get into contact with Lee Iacocca, the famous automobile CEO, who agreed to sponsor her run. It would take Mary Margaret a little over 60 days to complete the 2,000 mile run. Her loyal companion, Velia, was not allowed to go to Japan and had to remain behind. Mary Margaret was the first person to run the entirety of Japan. After completing her run in Japan, Mary Margaret set her eyes on something potentially more dangerous and impressive… running the Himalayas. The Himalayas come with their own unique set of challenges. For much of the run, she would be isolated and miles from civilization, unlike the densely populated country of Japan. Even worse, some parts of the run had to be done in 100+ degree heat while most of it was in ice, snow, cold and altitude. None of this discouraged Mary Margaret. She secured a sponsorship from the photography giant Kodak. Mary Margaret says that her run in the Himalayas was probably both the most exciting and the most terrifying of her accomplishments. At one point

during the run, Mary Margaret began to run low on food, both for herself and for her dog. As she continued the run, she experience low blood sugar causing her to slow down and grow more and more afraid. The mountainous region separating India and China is sparsely populated, with no electricity, meaning wherever Mary Margaret looked she saw only darkness. There was no where she could turn for help. At one point, she heard noises from behind and realized there was a small group of men walking behind her. She didn’t know what to do. Were they following her? Should she let them pass? Or ask for help? “Eventually, I stopped with the dog, and they came up to me. They didn’t speak English, and I didn’t speak their language so there was no communication. One of them tapped me on the shoulder, and laid a blanket down on the ground. They arranged food on the ground and they fed not only me, but also my dog. Not a single word was said, but there was a kind of mutual understanding. Once we had all eaten, they packed up everything, and we all went on our separate ways.” Upon completing the Himalayan run, Mary Margaret returned to the United States and began making preparations for a run in China. She moved to our quiet town of Centreville where she continued training and began planning for her next run, which she hoped would be across China. Then political strife and pollution in China caused Mary Margaret to reconsider another run in the Far East. “Even though I really wanted to do the run, I think that if I had I might not have survived the pollution.”.....Page 18 Just because Mary Margaret’s athletic career was over, however, it did not

mean that her adventures were done. “I loved Centreville and wanted the rural life and the good areas to run and train. I still had in mind to do some runs,” she said. While in Centreville, she became interested in Queen Anne’s County History. It started with an interest in local houses and architecture and blossomed into a general passion for history on the Eastern Shore. Her interest, passion and dedication eventually led her to being named the county’s historian. From county historian and champion, Mary Margaret’s passion naturally evolved into women’s history. She read a county book detailing local history. Soon after she began reading, she noticed that the book was exclusively about men… and barely featured any stories of women in the history of the county. Mary Margaret was disappointed about the lack of recognition of women’s history, and, ever the adventurer and conqueror took matters into her own hands. She decided the perfect way to make up for this lack of recognition was to open a museum of women’s history right here in Queen Anne’s County. Mary Margaret proposed an arrangement with the county to use the Bloomfield Manor as the site of her future museum. Located right outside of downtown Centreville, the beautiful mansion is actually a piece of women’s history. The centuries-old home

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was once owned by a female historian whose name was Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory. Mary Emory wrote her history book focused on those often left out of the traditional history books, such as African Americans and women. The foundation that is currently working to create the museum was named in her honor… The Mary Edwardine Bourke Emory Foundation Inc. Mary Margaret has plans for a soft opening for the museum this summer during the 100th anniversary of the nineteenth amendment, which gave

women across the country the right to vote. Mary Margaret hopes the Bloomfield Manor will be more than a typical museum. She wants to use the space to eventually hold summer camps, science fairs for local high schoolers, and a women’s conference center. The museum is still in its early stages, but given Mary Margaret’s fortitude and passion it’s bound to come to fruition. From endurance swimmer to runner to historian, Mary Margaret has truly lived an accomplished and incredible life. In the face of insurmountable odds, Mary Margaret has risen time and time again to the occasion. It is truly unbelievable that a woman with polio and post-polio syndrome could swim so many miles and run thousands of miles, but Mary Margaret did all of this. She says that Disney had contacted her about potentially making a film detailing her incredible life. Mary Margaret says that she is not ready for a movie to be made about her… because she still has so much more to do. And I agree… Mary Margaret has made history and is sure to continue to make history.

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