Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Dame Mary still the ultimate role model

Editor's Viewpoint

We often look to sportspeople when seeking role models for our young people. In Northern Ireland we have been blessed by many fine examples of those who have reached the top in their sport and encouraged others to emulate them.

But one name consistently tops the list of those we admire - that of Dame Mary Peters. It may be 46 years since she won the gold medal for the pentathlon at the Munich Olympics but she, at the age of 79, is still regarded as our Golden Girl.

Her achievement, won in the very last event of the pentathlon, was incredible in its own right, but it was her reaction to that victory and her all-consuming desire to inspire others to follow in her footsteps which marked her out as a very special person, or as our sports editor today describes her, a national treasure.

Mary's sporting achievements - she also won gold, silver and bronze medals at various Commonwealth Games - buoyed the entire province during some of its darkest days. We had a star capable of holding her own with the best in the world, yet she was no remote diva but a generous-hearted woman with a winning smile.

Amid all the adulation and awards - she has an MBE, CBE, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and Member of the Order of the Companion of Honour - she has kept her focus on helping other sportspeople become the stars of tomorrow.

With the help of our late sports editor, the inimitable Malcolm Brodie, she founded the Mary Peters Track, which gave our athletes top class facilities for the first time, and the Mary Peters Trust continues to fund and advise youngsters.

Indeed, Mary is in the process of trying to raise £1m for the Trust and is three-quarters of the way there. But, as our exclusive story today reveals, it is a project which could have ended in tragedy. Earlier this year she was diagnosed with a serious cardiac problem which led to a six-hour operation to replace a valve. Without surgery she might only have had a year to live.

Mary may be 79, but she has always prided herself on keeping fit, walking four miles a day and always on the go. That she could be struck down with such a serious condition is a warning to all of us never to take our health for granted.

Thankfully she is now on the road to recovery and the best present she could receive for her birthday next year is to reach her fundraising target.

Belfast Telegraph

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