Mary Haines, 98, Led The Fullest Of Lives

Mary Haines once got a javelin for her birthday. It was a 7-foot regulation javelin, almost 2 feet taller than Haines was.

At the time, Haines was 83 years old.

A familiar sight on the state road racing circuit, Haines wanted to learn how to throw the javelin, just in case she couldn't run anymore. She still wanted to be able to compete at the Senior Games.

"I'll try anything," she told me then.

Haines, a former Newington resident, died Nov. 10 at age 98 in her daughter's home in Northampton, Mass.

But she lived a full life.

Haines took up running right before her husband died. And that led to a lot of other activities. Throwing the javelin (eventually her kids found her a smaller one that she could handle). Rowing and kayaking. She played basketball at the National Senior Games, despite the fact that she was legally blind. She traveled all over the country and the world, competing in the Senior Games and the World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA) championships.

"She had a great life," said her daughter Pat, who now runs SJ Ranch, a horseback riding camp founded by her mother in Ellington. "She stopped running in races about a year ago. We would do short runs, but they would definitely be short. Her equilibrium was off. She had a walker, which we called a runner."

"She took full advantage of life. She was an orphan. She never finished high school."

Haines had six children with her husband, Willis, who died in 1982. She started running at the riding camp when she was 68. Her goal then, she told me once, was to run until she was 80. Once she turned 80, she said simply that her goal was to keep running.

As she aged, she encouraged race directors to add more age groups because 80-year-olds couldn't compete in the 70-and-up category. And they did. The Manchester Road Race has a 90-plus category now.

"She was probably responsible for age groups in a lot of races," said Bill Tribou of Granby, who is 91 and holds the 90-plus record at Manchester. "She was a real role model for older women. I'll bet a lot of women who saw her, thought, 'I can do that.'"

Marj Sasiela of Newington was running in her second road race when she met Haines. Sasiela had just quit smoking, wore $5 sneakers and a sweatsuit on a warm October day and had no idea what she was doing running 5 miles.

"I was praying during the race, praying to Mary," Sasiela said in 2004. "Then this little gray-haired lady came up to me and said, 'I'm going to help you, my name is Mary,' and I thought, 'That was quick.'"

"She was a wonderful mentor to me," Sasiela said last week.

She encouraged many older runners to compete in the Senior Games.

"We traveled to the Senior Olympics together, six of us, and we'd all pile into a room," said another of her running friends, Barbara Frasca of Wethersfield.

Frasca's best memory was Haines' playing for the Senior Huskies basketball team, which qualified for the National Senior Games despite not knowing how to play basketball. The group of runners, including Frasca, Sasiela and another friend, Jeannette Cyr of Kensington, qualified because nobody else was in their age group. They did have some time to learn before they headed to Orlando in the summer of 1999.

Haines practiced shooting every day. She wore No. 85 (her age). She couldn't see very well.

"It was in the middle of a game [in Florida]," Frasca said. "We were losing by so much we could never have won. The other team handed her the ball and turned her around and said, 'Shoot.' She made the shot."

"We had more spectators at our losing game. Nobody could believe we were basketball players."

Haines was tough. In 1998, she got hit by a car at a 10K in West Hartford. She was 84. "I got up and said, 'I got to keep going,'" she told me the day after the medical personnel bandaged her arm. "I only had a mile to go."

Whenever I asked her how she did in a race, she'd say, "I finished."

After she moved to Northampton to live with her daughter, I didn't see her that much. Probably one of the last times I saw her was in 2006 when she ran the Hartford Marathon 5K. She finished the race in 1 hour, 19 minutes, with Verna her guide dog and two daughters by her side.

And she was not last that day, finishing 568th out of 575 runners. She was 92.

She finished.

"She lived a full, full life, a very full life," Hartford Marathon race director Beth Shluger said. "No regrets. Life doesn't get any better than that. It doesn't get any better than a Mary Haines life."

One of Haines' nephews was a doctor. When he was in medical school, he told her that there was a shortage of cadavers. She decided that she wanted to donate her body to a medical school. So she did.

Even in death, Haines was still doing something interesting, pushing the envelope a little, doing something that most people wouldn't think of doing.

"She always wanted to be a cadaver," Pat said. "Finally, she'll get to go to college."

There will be a celebration of Mary Haine's life Nov. 25 at the Scout Hall Youth Center, 28 Abbe Road, East Windsor, from 3-5 p.m.

Featured Stories

CTnow is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on ctnow.com articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.