I won a gold medal in shot-put at the 2008 Maryland State Senior Olympics and qualified to participate in the National Senior Olympics held on the Stanford campus in summer 2009. My success at throwing a shot-put, something I’d never done as a youth, was based on attention to physical details required to propel a heavy metal ball as far as possible. It required mental concentration, practice, and a commitment to training for over a year. All of these requirements are needed for anyone to be a success in life, whether personally or professionally. Over the next 5 years, I wracked up a real, honest to goodness “track record” competing in local and state track and field meets in the shot-put, discus, 100 m dash events, and football throw, an event sponsored by the DC Senior Olympics. I earned Gold and Silver Medals in each event, not always because I excelled necessarily, but because I showed up early on a Sunday morning, while other women of my age class slept in.
Today, as I write the story of my life, I’m sitting at a desk in the corner of my renovated bedroom in Mariposa, California, in what will be my final office space. I look out on the California foothills, the Guadalupe Mountains in the distance, quail and acorn woodpeckers flying between towering blue and valley oaks. I’m now largely restricted to mental exercises, as my body slowly shuts its voluntary muscles down owing to the silent ravages of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). In the last year, as I embark on this new journey, it seemed the right time to write about the remarkable life I’ve lived through an era that has seen the rise of women as respected scientists and the start of a new field in earth science---biogeochemistry.
A person’s personal life has its own voyage, not necessarily mirrored by one’s career. In my case, I can’t separate the two. Experiences in both spheres have shaped me as a person. Is it possible to be a 1st class scientist, mother and wife at the same time? Lynn Margulis, a noted evolutionary biologist, once said this is impossible. I am not sure what 1st class really means in either context, but I think it’s possible for women to achieve success as scientists, wives, and mothers at the same time. Learning to live with small imperfections is key. Finishing what you start is critical. Laughing at yourself is necessary. Taking a stand and doing what is “right” can help you sleep at night when unfinished business, housework, and relationships internally nag at 3:00 in the morning. Keeping an eye on the long run, not short term setbacks. I believe I succeeded at all three; what I’ve done has been good enough, and just recently has been judged by others to be 1st class. That’s not as important, however, as how I judge myself. To be comfortable in your own skin, to know what makes you happy, and to allow yourself to be what you want to be is as important to me as “1st class”. Rewards come at odd times. My children talk about cool adventures, my husband and I continue to enjoy life ALS not withstanding, and I’ve had a whale of a good time with colleagues young and old.