MaryKay Mullally is the acclaimed wellness coach who used the Landmark Self-Expression and Leadership Program to fulfill her dream of making a difference for other women by having them run marathons and half marathons. Her work with Step up for Life, her organization through which about 1,000 women have completed the San Diego half marathon, attracted the attention of ABC News, where she was one of five finalists for the Good Morning American/Prevention Magazine Picture of Health Contest (all five finalists were eventually deemed winners and awarded $5,000). Since the contest, Mullally continues to inspire others and attract the attention of newspapers in the western hemisphere. This story, written by Barbara Nelson and appearing in the Jamaica Gleaner, tells some of this background and some of what came out of this contest.
MaryKay Mullally is one of those rare persons who genuinely believe that “at the end of the day only a life lived for others is worth living”.
I came across her story, just by chance, leafing through the June 2008 issue of Prevention magazine. She was one of the five women featured who were vying for the top prize in the second annual Prevention/ABC News Now Picture of Health contest. The women were selected because they showed that “life does get better after 40, and that you can find your healthy path no matter how many twists and turns it takes to get there”.
Tired of running a software development team in California, Jamaican-born MaryKay Mullally became involved in self-development seminars. One of her courses involved developing a half-marathon-training group. The result? “I ran my first marathon in January 2002, two months before turning 41,” the now vibrant 47-year-old mother of two said.
“It was one of the most challenging yet exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I had to dig deep physically and mentally to keep going when my muscles were burning and the voices in my head said I wasn’t going to make it. It required that I be present in each moment, focus on the finish line and just take the next step. Completing that marathon made me feel like I could do anything.”
This charming woman, who attended St Andrew High School in Jamaica as a young girl, ran two more marathons in 2003 before creating Step Up For Life in August 2004. Step Up For Life was initially launched as a project in self-expression and leadership, one of the core programmes of Landmark Education. This programme gives people an opportunity to express themselves fully, make a difference, and be a leader. The project was an opportunity for her to make a difference in her community.
“I wanted to empower women with this programme by helping them to do something they would never have done and never thought they could, so they could take that into other areas of their lives and know they could do anything, by taking one step at a time with the support of other women, just like themselves. I wanted women to experience the freedom I felt when I ran and have a tool they could use to reclaim their health. I had 50 people sign up and had to turn people away,” she said.
Of the original 50 women, 40 made it to the starting line at the inaugural Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco, and all finished. For many, it was the most empowering experience of their lives.
In January of 2005 MaryKay launched Step Up as a business, running three sessions per year to train for local San Diego Half marathons. Just fewer than 1,000 women have participated to date.
“I have now expanded my business into a wellness coaching practice and have helped hundreds of men and women to lose weight and reclaim their health and well-being. So my focus is more on this aspect of my business,” she explained.
MaryKay also coaches people via the phone over a period and helps them to achieve their individual health, weight or fitness goals. “I can work with practically anyone anywhere,” she said.
So why did she enter the Prevention/ABC News Now Picture of Health competition? “I wanted to touch more people through the media. Being in the best shape of my life at 47 years of age I get to uplift others by being an example of vibrant health,” she said.
Since the competition began, people from all over the country have contacted her. She has also re-connected with high school and other friends with whom she had lost touch, and that has been both rewarding and an unexpected benefit.
“One phone call I will never forget,” MaryKay said, “came from a woman in Texas on the morning the competition was announced on Good Morning America. She told me that she weighed 300 lb and had tried every diet in the book and had failed miserably. She said she hated herself and the night before had gone to bed hopeless and resigned. That morning she turned the TV on to the segment and for the first time in months she had hope through my story. At that point she immediately went to her computer, cast her vote for me, looked me up on Google and called me. When I hung up, realising that my dream to impact millions of people was already being fulfilled, it was all I could do to not breakdown and cry.”
ABC News declared all five finalists winners and MaryKay donated her winning cheque of US$5,000 to NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans), of Princeton MA. The organisation trains rescued dogs to assist persons who are deaf or physically disabled in leading more independent lives.
“I chose NEADS because this was the original charity I donated money to when Step Up was first founded, and because I think that it is very important to empower the disabled and give them the gift of independence, while giving animals that may have otherwise been destroyed a valuable purpose,” she said.
To read more about MaryKay, read Landmark Education News’ first story about Mullally and Step up for Life.