A PARTING TRIBUTE TO RITZ CONTRIBUTOR, MAE PALM

06.13.2018

I learned today that Mae Palm has died after a battle with lung cancer. She will be missed. When we were putting together “Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes“, co-editor Steve King told me we HAD to get a contribution from Mae Palm. You will see why when you read what follows. The only one who seemed to disagree was Mae, who felt, nay insisted, that she really didn’t have anything to contribute, and besides wasn’t much of a writer. Thankfully, WE insisted even more strongly, that she most certainly DID have something to say and told her not to worry about her writing – ‘just tell your story’, the editors will ensure it gets written. Following is her chapter, and (then) bio, direct from the book.

Mae Palm (Wilson)

Mae Palm with Frank Shorter

Born in South Africa in Johannesburg in 1939, Mae immigrated to England in 1956 and moved to Canada in 1966. Although she is also known by her married name, Wilson, Mae uses Palm for all her races in memory of her parents. Because of the apartheid problems in South Africa her father would often say “You are a Palm and you are Number One!” She is of mixed origin.

Mae started running in 1978 and started racing in 1980, at the age of 40. She only took up swimming at the age of 58 so she could compete in triathlons and has never looked back. She has not only completed over 100 marathons, but also regularly racks up a 1st place finish in her category! Known as “Marathon Mae”, Ms. Palm is a Canadian and North American record-holder and an inspiring individual to meet.

Mae is the mother of a son, Brendan and a daughter, Breanna and now a grandmother and even though she now resides in a seniors residence, she surely qualifies as the fastest senior in town!

One of Mae’s running highlights has been competing in the “Diamond Head Duet” a pre-marathon fun-run team event which is part of the Honolulu Marathon. For several years her partner was 1972 Olympic Marathon champion, Frank Shorter, shown with Mae in her photo, above.

Unfortunately, Mae finds the cost of entry fees, especially for international competitions prohibitive and in the past has had to pass up competing in events for which she has qualified, including the Boston Marathon and the Hawaiian Ironman due to the expense. She relies on sponsors to help offset the athletic costs involved with competing in triathlons and other events. Supported by Triathlon Canada, Mae was recently recognized with a grant from the Canadian Athletic Achievements of Women in Sport (CAAWS) and will use the WISE Fund for registration fees for upcoming competitions, including the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii. In 2005 Mae received an award from Sport BC, the Community Sports Hero Award (Sea to Sky Community Area) in recognition not only as a volunteer but as a motivator and promoter of sport.

[Ed. Note: Following is the un-edited text of Mae’s contribution, as published in 2005 (except that the original had no photographs, which have been added). No links were added, as is normal on the blog, as this is meant to be a faithful reproduction of what Mae gave us for the book. For more information, contact the editor at danbcumming@gmail.com]

They Call Me Marathon Mae!!

Mae Palm

I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 26, 1939. At that time my family lived as ‘coloured’ in an area that became known later as Soweto, but at that time it was known as Alexandra Township. It was for Blacks and Coloureds only. My father had the pride and inner courage to open a business in a town for Whites called Ferndale, so we hid our true identity to be accepted as White. My Dad had the audacity to claim our darker coloured skin was due to Portuguese heritage! I credit this upbringing and my experience from that time with empowering me to be the best at whatever I do, whether it is working as a maid (something I did for a time) or competing as an Ultra runner.

When it came time for me to find work, my birth certificate had to be shown and it told the real story. In those days my options and opportunities were severely limited due to apartheid. In 1956 I immigrated to England, where I lived until 1966. I was able to do this thanks to my Mum, who saved any money she could in her special little “brown bag”. Mum and Dad ran two stores side by side called – you guessed it – Palm Stores. My Dad was a very proud man, and did not want to ‘yes sir’/ ‘no sir’ anyone. He went into business for himself and became his own boss. When you go through hard times I believe it makes a better person out of you. Dad would often tell us: “You are a Palm and you are Number One”.

For me running started when I was in my late 30’s. It was about the time when I started driving a car, walking less and noticing that I was gaining weight. Being just 4’11” in height, I didn’t want to wind up as wide as I was high! As a ‘stay at home Mum’ of two children, it didn’t take too long to realize that if I was going to do it, I needed to walk or run at 6am to have my then-husband at home with the sleeping children. For me, this was simply the best timing. I think most people will quit running if they do not choose the right time of day. When I began working in Whistler in 1982, I found that this early morning exercise schedule could be continued with good effect. It is when I became a “5-9” person. That is right: five to nine. It included my 9-5pm work schedule, something with which most people are more familiar. I would be up at 5am to go for a run and hit my bed at about 9pm, soon after the kids. That has been my routine for over 25 years now. For me, it’s now just part of life. I guess I run for the health of it!

My first race was in 1980 in Squamish, BC and was an 8km run. Maybe more to my own surprise than anyone else’s, I placed first in my age category – the rest is history! This first race hooked me on racing. As most of my running and training has been achieved by self coaching, I really have nobody to blame but myself when I don’t do well. Still, I strongly believe that I have managed to stay uninjured by listening to my body and backing off when I need to do so. That is to say, I have never missed a race that I have entered due to injury. I live by a personal rule to never bite off more than I can chew and that has been a key component of any success I have achieved. I run because I love it and if I manage to place first in any competition, well that is just ‘icing on the cake’.

I truly thrive on other peoples achievements, especially if they are older or are physically challenged. It is seeing and hearing success stories in the sport world that inspires me. Knowing what others can do, especially those with some kind of extra challenge to meet or overcome, helps me to grow stronger. I have a great appreciation for the volunteers at races and always try to let them know that in real terms. I once had a running friend comment, ‘If you would only stop thanking all the volunteers you would improve on your time!’ To me that is neither important nor possible. It just isn’t my way. I love the healthy friendly enjoyment of the run itself, the longer the better. It’s like being at a big party where you dance for 3 or 4 or 5 hours.

There was a time (age 13-26) when I used to smoke and drink but that was the limit of my use of any kind of drugs, and I have always stayed away even from pain killers. I want to know what my body is feeling and how it is doing. I stopped smoking when I was three months pregnant with my son Brendan, more than 36 years ago. And, while on the subject of family, I also have a daughter, Breanna, who is a seven years younger than her brother.

Quitting willy-nilly is not in my nature, so I always try to make sure I can finish whatever I start. Experimenting in a new sport is a real ‘high’ for me. That attitude has taken me to marathons, Ultra running and Triathlon. But, let’s start at the beginning. After running for a bit I found out that I had the mental strength to endure long distance running, so over time I went from running 2 miles every day in the first couple of years of my regular running, to the slightly further distance of 100 miles. That transition took until 1994 at the Western States 100 Miler. I did that run in a time of 29 hours 54 minutes and some seconds, only 6 minutes to spare before the cut off of 30 hours! But, I did it!

I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Klein. She actually passed me in the dark of the night – what an amazing woman – she was in her early 70’s at the time. Even though she only started running in her mid-50’s, she is a superb senior athlete and has held many age category records. She is a great inspiration and gives me hopes for my own endeavours in the 65-69 age category.

One of the happiest, most pleasurable, and OK –luckiest, parts of my running career came when I partnered with Olympian Frank Shorter (1972 and 1976 gold and silver medalist for the marathon) in “the Diamond Head Duet” a pre-marathon fun run which is part of the Honolulu Marathon. The “Duet” is a 4.6 mile marathon primer and with our combined ages we were placed in the 100-119 age category. In the four or five years we competed together, we always placed first because Frank was so fast. Frank, through the inspiration he gave, drove me to compete at my highest level and to work very hard for him. He was always so gracious. He came, this Olympic hero and fantastic runner, to pick up Breanna and me and to take us to all the events he had to attend. We met his wife and their baby girl. We went to the beach with them and were treated like old friends.

I found myself amused and amazed to be standing side by side with Frank (after the main event “the marathon”) while waiting for the results to see how we did and discussing the race. It seemed so strange to be there along side an Olympian who just treated me like a buddy (in between signing autographs, of course!).

A good example of how running makes her ‘beam’. Peach City Marathon (near Penticton, BC)

I love running. It is really that simple. It has brought me through troubled times and is a great stress release. It just always makes me feel like I am beaming and smiling not only on the outside but from within. What keeps me going is really quite simple. I want to continue setting the best example I can for anyone who might be interested. But most of all, now that I have a grandson, my dream is to be able to do a run with him one day.

Dag Aabye, a Squamish forestry worker, and locally well-known skier and runner, encouraged me to believe in myself and believe that I could become a long distance runner. He used to see me on my early morning two-mile runs as I would pass his house and one day he just came dashing out of his house, stopped me and said: “You are a runner and you should do a marathon!” It was his encouragement that sparked a personal and ongoing passion for marathons even though I little knew what a marathon was at the time. It was also what inspired me to compete in the grueling Whistler Marathon in 1982 and again in 1983.

During my Ultra running days, I was so pleased to meet Ann Trason, female winner of the 1994 Western States 100 Miler. This was a real highlight for me. Ann is an amazing woman and, I think, very shy. Two weeks after the 100 Miler race, I completed the North Shore Knee Knacker 30-mile ultra marathon (North Vancouver, BC) and won my division. As I crossed the finish line, race organizer Enzo Federico announced that I had run the Western States 100 Miler as a “training run” for the Knee Knacker. I hadn’t actually thought of it that way, but……

In 1995, I raced again in the North Shore Knee Knacker wearing a pair of Nike racing flats and I elected to not carry any water. The bottom of my racing flats had slight ridges but no tread. I am pleased to say that I bettered the time of my previous year by over 1 hour and finished in 7:20:26, breaking my own race record of 8:21:33 which I set in 1993. In 1996, I was thrilled to be one of 10 trail-runners highlighted in the Discovery Channel’s show “Go For It!” The show followed the runners through the terrain of the 30 Mile Knee Knacker course and filmed the trail running experience.

Medals and ribbons and trophies are good, but my personal reward for running a marathon is Haagen Daz ice cream! Well, that is if I have done really well; actually any ice cream is good and originally my favorite treat was waffles with oodles of cream and blueberry sauce. Treats are rewards and not for all the time. I have to earn them. Of course, I am the only one keeping track, but that is the way it is.

As the clock and calendar tick away, I take nothing for granted. Even though I enjoy good health and do marathons and other such endurance races, I am grateful to be able to walk to the bathroom and just be able to be self sufficient. I feel very fortunate to be in good health, when I know that others are not and that there is no guarantee for any of us. I like to challenge myself, but not to the point of being ridiculous. I know my limits and run against my own times.

I think it was quite fitting and made a bit of personal history in planning my 100th marathon in Vancouver. Although I go by Mae Wilson for most things, I use my maiden name, Palm, for running. I do this as a memorial to my late mother who passed away in 1990 on the very date of the Vancouver International Marathon. When my good friend Steve King, announced this at the race, it was very special and heart warming. Steve always has a way of making one feel so good through his encouraging and nice words.

In September 2002, I was featured in the article ‘The Ages of an Athlete” in an issue of Sports Illustrated Women. The feature was on growing old gracefully and the changes an athlete experiences. I was the only Canadian featured in the article and represented the 60’s category. Like everyone, I have had lot’s of photographs taken by family, race photographers and even a reporter or two, but it was my first ‘photo shoot’ with a New York professional photographer. To say the least, it was a memorable experience and I felt truly honoured to be chosen. The article featured athletes from a 9 year old basketball player running through the decades to a 93 year old swimmer.

A local, internationally recognized triathlete, Bob McIntosh was tragically and brutally killed in 1999. In that same year, in recognition of him, the Bob McIntosh Triathlon was organized in Squamish, BC. While I didn’t know him well, he would joke with me about becoming a triathlete, little realizing that I could not swim with my face in the water or that when I first tried my hand at triathlon in 1989 in Whistler on a dare, I was the last one out of the lake. I did every stroke I knew (including the backstroke) to avoid putting my face or nose in the water. I concluded at that point that I was not triathlon material! So, I thought I would volunteer for the 1999 event. When the local paper called to find out if I would be entering, I laughed at the idea. Apparently, they didn’t know much about my swimming abilities either. After I put the phone down from the local reporter, I gave the race another thought. Why not try? Other people swim. I could take swimming lessons and I began to build my courage, telling myself that ‘you are never too old to try’. I still feel the swim is the scariest part of triathlons, but my determination and perseverance motivated me to take lessons, practice and force myself to swim more effectively and conquer my lifelong fear of swimming. I participated in the 1st Bob McIntosh Triathlon as a personal memorial to Bob.

IronMan Championship 2001 – Kona.

In 2001, I won, my age category, in the very windy and scary World Ironman Championship Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. As far as I know, I was the only Canadian representing my age category at the World Championships. As someone who has always been content to finish each race this was an achievement I had never even considered. This win was definitely ‘icing on the cake’! Sadly, my family was unable to attend the race and celebrate that special victory. Still, it was a glorious moment to share the win with fellow Ironman athletes while sitting at the awards ceremony with an ‘all Canadian’ table. I will admit that there is some loneliness in being a long distance athlete, especially when you are self coached. However, the win in 2001 was a very proud moment that makes it all worthwhile. It was like a dream, but it encouraged me and makes me feel there still so much to learn and improve on with triathlons. More than that, it gives me the confidence to know I can achieve both the learning and the improvement.

The goal today is to remain healthy and injury free so I can enjoy having athletic fun with my grandson and the rest of the family. I sometimes dream of ‘finishing’ what my young hero, Terry Fox, could not do, at least in a physical sense. It is my dream and my ambition to do runs and events for a cause rather than just selfishly doing them for my own achievement and satisfaction. I often dedicate a given run to the memory of someone, but would like to be doing more. The inspiration of Terry Fox tells me there is something out there that is one day going to click with me and then I will know what my cause will be. I truly believe in being careful and listening to my body. With this attitude and approach, I think I could do a marathon a day for as many days as it would take.

 

Rest in peace, Mae. This marathon is done. We will miss you.

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