In 1984, she was Mary Wayte, a 19-year-old swimming sensation who burst onto the global stage at the Los Angeles Olympics, winning two gold medals. Now, she is Mary Bradburne, executive communications manager for Brian Marlier, SVP, U.S. Enterprise sales. She is based in Seattle.
Mary's other achievements have included silver and bronze medals at the 1988 Games in Seoul, as well as multiple NCAA and U.S. National titles.
In 2000, she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. In total, Mary has been inducted into five Halls of Fame, including her high school, Mercer Island High near Seattle, Washington, and her college, University of Florida.
Long Road to the Gold
Growing up on Mercer Island in Washington state, Mary always loved swimming, and in third grade she made a key decision to swim all 12 months of the year rather than just three months—so she could be just as fast as the other girls. Her speed times took off. By 12, she had surpassed two records for the Pacific Northwest Association Swimming and a year later qualified for Senior Nationals, competing head-to-head with world-class swimmers for the first time.
By 1980, the 15-year-old Mary was ready to compete at the Olympic Trials. Hoping to make an impression, finish in the top eight, and even qualify for the team, her dreams were dashed.
Underweight from nerves and dehydrated, she managed to keep even with the world-record holder up to the 150-meter mark. Her body, however, literally shut down by the final turn and she ended dead last by 15 seconds.
"It was the lowest point in my career; I couldn't even pull myself out of the water and when I finally did, I only had enough energy to crawl on my hands and knees away from the blocks so the next heat of swimmers could start their race," she recalls. "But the lesson I learned was the importance of taking care of my body, heart, and soul."
Despite injuries in early high school, Mary became known by her senior year as the nation's No. 1 ranked swimming prospect. Attending University of Florida, she joined a number of future Olympic swimmers, including Tracy Caulkins and Dara Torres—and made the 1984 U.S. Olympics team.
Mary was not the favorite to capture gold in the 200-meter freestyle. Among others, she was facing longtime nemesis Cynthia Woodhead, the world-record holder in the event, who had won three golds at the 1978 World Championships. Mary believes that there were just four people in the world who thought she could win—her parents, her coach, and herself.
"When I got to the starting blocks, I felt an inner peace that I had never felt before or since," she says. "I had swam—and won—that race so many times in my head. I don't even remember anything until the final 25 meters."
In a thrilling finish, Mary beat Woodhead for the gold, and days later, won her second gold medal in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay.
Rock Star Treatment, then Back to School
After their memorable summer in Los Angeles, the U.S. medal winners toured American cities that celebrated their success (even a tickertape parade in New York City) and met President Ronald Reagan. Then Mary quietly flew back to Gainesville, Florida, to resume her college classes.
"No one in the airport even recognized me," she says. "I picked up my luggage, got a cab, and life seemed like it was pretty much back to normal."
What Mary didn't know was that her life would never be the same. Along with the other Olympians, she would be part of the halftime show at the University of Florida football games almost every week making her extremely recognizable on campus and in town.
"Even now, more than 25 years later, my Olympic experience influences my life almost daily both because of what I know and have been through," Mary says.
Here are some of Mary Bradburne's thoughts on:
- Advice to aspiring swimmers—"Find yourself a good coach who truly understands technique and take a series of lessons. Most people don't realize that swimming is every bit as technical as golf."
- Favorite swimmers—"It's a tossup between Tracy Caulkins and Michael Phelps. Michael is clearly the most accomplished swimmer of this era, and probably any era. But Tracy was the 'Michael Phelps' of my day. She not only won, she dominated. She was so far ahead of everybody, it's like she was taken from the future and dropped into the 1980s. And, she is the most humble and gracious athlete I have ever met."
- Swimming philosophy—"Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect."
- Training tips—"Whether you are 25, 35 or retirement age, warm-up and warm down are critical for our bodies—both to prevent injuries and to maximize our workouts. Second, weightlifting is very important in swimming. If you want to get better, you have to lift weights to develop a strong back so your shoulders aren't doing all the work. I'd suggest making a one-time visit to a physical therapist to get all the right exercises so you don't injure yourself."
- What to look for in swimmers—"Swimmers who get on top of the water. When you watch the Olympics, everyone is swimming on top of the water because they are the best in the world. But when you look at average swimmers, they are chugging through the water. I get excited when I see a kid who's figured out how to raise his or her body on top of the water. It's a gift."