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'Marathon Mavis'

VEREENIGING, South Africa — This is a story about an ageless woman, referred to variously as "Galloping Granny" or "Marathon Mavis," and how she has used, and still uses, the precious hours and days of her life.

Mavis Hutchison, a slender, silver-haired 81-year-old member of the Vereeniging Ward, Bedfordview South Africa Stake, started a distinguished athletic "career" at the age of 36. Born in Kimberly, the diamond capital of South Africa, in 1924, she was reared with her twin sister and two other siblings. She describes herself in her youth as a very nervous person. Demonstrating the steely resoluteness so important and evident later in her life, she determined to overcome it by avoiding anger and keeping busy.

One of her four children, a son, was the catalyst that initiated her into athletics, following a race he had entered in 1962. She progressed from walking to cross-country running, to road racing, becoming completely hooked, and immersing herself in a regime of training and racing, a world pioneer in distance running for women. Those were times when ladies did not compete in distance races. Until it later became accepted internationally, she ran unofficially in many, many contests, the first woman to complete a marathon in South Africa.

"I began to learn the great power of the mind," Sister Hutchison said. "I learned perseverance and endurance."

In 1978 she undertook a run across the United States, from Los Angeles, Calif., to New York City, N.Y. She prepared for it diligently over a five-year period, competing in a series of grueling distance events in her homeland, running from Johannesburg to Durban, Durban back to Johannesburg; traversing nearly the full length of the nation from Pretoria to Cape Town; from Germiston to Cape Town and from Messina to Johannesburg. She set a record that still stands, covering 5,000 kilometers in 69 days, an average of 72 kilometers each day, enduring hazardous road traffic, extreme heat and bitter cold, and seven days of incessant rain, in agonizing pain much of the time. She has also competed in England, Sweden, Germany, Japan and Spain.

The World Games in Spain, August 2005, in which 6,000 athletes from 80 nations participated, provided a small capsule of her decades of competition successes. In her masters class, she placed second (silver medals) in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter walk events, and in the 1,500- and 800-meter runs. She won the gold in the 400-meter sprint. She was "only" 80 then, and might have done even better if she hadn't suffered from the flu and bronchitis during some of those days, and from severe leg cramps.

In January of this year at the Vaal Triangle Championships, she broke records in the 100- and 200-meter sprints and set another throwing the javelin. She's even thrown the shot put.

Recalling her conversion to the Church, she felt that the Lord said to her in 1978, "Now is the time for you to grow spiritually," so she listened when young missionaries with a soft, patient teaching manner first won her attention and admiration. She was baptized not long after returning from her trans-America run.

"When I came up out of the water, I knew I had done the right thing," she said. Her faith is a mainstay to her.

She plans to participate in Pretoria in April, then in Germiston and later at the South Africa Championships in Port Elizabeth. "Age is a chronological process that happens to all of us," she maintains, "and when you stop growing, you are old."

If you go to the track where she works out, you'd have to stay two-and-a-half hours to witness her ambitious daily routine of stretches, slow warm-ups, intervals of speed and endurance lap running, recovery and repetition. You will find her there six days a week. She doesn't train or compete on the Sabbath; on that day, you'll find her at Church meetings and resting from her labors.

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