A proud new member of the Seven Continents Club
As naturally competitive as Mary Ann Weber is, she doesn’t insist on being first all the time. The former Santa Rosa dentist is perfectly content, for example, to be the 126th woman on Earth to travel to all seven continents to do something both agonizing and exhilarating.
Weber, now a part-time acupuncturist, joined one of the planet’s most elite clubs this summer. She earned her place by pushing herself to finish fifth in South Africa’s Big Five Marathon.
The run draws its name from the number of species of top-tier Africa animals the runners hope to spot from a safe distance: Lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo.
“I saw all five,” smiled Weber, fit and lithe at 50, at her home near Howarth Park.
Most fellow humans would consider it the ultimate physical achievement to have finished just that one exotic marathon. But as Weber crossed the finish line in the Entabeni Game Reserve, the Sonoma Valley High alumna became one of only 126 women and 325 men to complete at least one marathon - 26.2 miles - on each continent.
For this new member of the Seven Continents Club, there is no better, more personally gratifying way to see and experience the world.
“When you come across the finish line you feel you’ve accomplished something,” Weber says.
That’s true, of course, of completing any marathon. The supreme bonus of her mission is that it has taken her to strikingly beautiful, challenging locations around the world, and in the company of a most extraordinary strain of people.
“There’s just this spirit of adventure,” Weber notes, among those few individuals drawn to run for hours on and along China’s Great Wall, the Olympic course in Greece or on Antarctica’s stunning but raw King George Island.
Beyond the extreme physical and psychological challenges and the immense satisfaction of enduring them, the extraordinary landscapes and the camaraderie, there has, for Weber, been one more key element of the international marathon circuit.
The animals. While in Chile this past April for the Santiago Marathon, she was distressed to see so many dogs living on the streets. On Easter Island, she befriended a small, sweet-tempered tan dog with a bum leg and took her to a vet, who concluded the leg had been broken by a kick.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do something. I have to do something for this dog.’”
Today, “Nui” is all healed, but for a slight limp, and she lives and runs with Weber and the marathoner’s two buffed Doberman pinschers, Spencer and Charlotte.
Weber’s visit to Africa in June for the marathon in the vast wildlife preserve in northern South Africa awakened her to the plight of the black rhinos killed for their horns, prized as an aphrodisiac.
“The poaching has become so bad that these creatures are going to be gone,” she said. She’ll be in her running shoes and in San Francisco on Oct. 4 for this region’s contribution to the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos.
The myriad benefits of running have been to key to Weber’s life since she first hit the streets with her dad, Manny, in Sonoma when she was in the seventh-grade.
She recalls, “My first pair of running shoes were Adidas TRXs. I thought they were the coolest thing.”
She ran cross-country as part of the Sonoma Valley High team that a year ago was inducted into the school’s sports Hall of Fame as the Team of the Decade. She points out, “I was not a star of that team.”
As a kid, animals also were important to her. She showed horses as a member of 4-H.
Following high school she studied health sciences and business management at UC Davis, and in 1989 earned a doctorate in dentistry at UCSF. She went into practice in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, but discovered she couldn’t do the work because a skin condition prevented her from wearing the requisite gloves.
So she returned to Davis and earned a master’s degree in winemaking. She sold wine for a time before switching to acupuncture.
And all through the studying and the career changes, she ran. She took on her first marathon, in Napa Valley, in 1996. Since then, she has finished that marathon seven times.
Seeking out new challenges, as endurance athletes tend to do, Weber discovered the Seven Continents Club. In 2003, she flew to Europe to run the Athens Marathon.
“We finished in the old marble stadium,” she says, “just like they did in the Olympics.”
Charting a course to take part in marathons on the six remaining continents, she ran in China’s Great Wall Marathon in 2005, the Six Foot Track Marathon in Australia in 2006, the Boston Marathon in 2007 and the Antarctica Marathon in 2008.
Weber expected to run also in South America and Africa by 2010 and to become one of the first 100 women in the world to join the Seven Continents Club. But an injury to her right foot developed into a infection, and for a time it appeared that she might never run another marathon.
Unable even to walk for many months, once she healed she had to start over with her training. “It took me four years to get up to 10 miles.”
She had been sidelined for six years when she ran in Chile and then South Africa virtually back-to-back earlier this year, at last claiming her place in the Seven Continents Club.
“I still have pain,” she admits. “When I run, my foot hurts. I have learned to tune it out, I would say.”
What’s next for her? Well, there’s this marathon at the North Pole.
Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and email@example.com.