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Napa High grad Peck, former gymnast and weightlifter, working on front lines
Where Are They Now?

Napa High grad Peck, former gymnast and weightlifter, working on front lines

The sports someone has competed in can often explain why they chose their line of work.

For Mary Peck, a 2008 Napa High graduate who is in the final months of nursing school at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore, 14 years of gymnastics didn’t steer her toward her career as much as five years of weightlifting.

A member of the Sacramento State gymnastics team, she did snatch and clean-and-jerk lifts in the weight room to get stronger. After graduating in 2013 with a degree in health science, Peck put her medical aspirations on hold to take up competitive weightlifting.

It led her to her making Team USA and winning the 2016 national title in the 63-kilogram class. She competed in the 2015 IWF Grand Prix, 2016 World University Championships, 2016 Olympic Trials and the 2017 Pan American Championships.

During those final years of her competitive weightlifting career, Peck worked as a professional trainer for fellow competitors in the sport. That job made her realize she enjoyed not only helping people reach their weightlifting goals, but helping them period.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse for a very long time, but I didn’t know my reason why until I got into weightlifting,” she recalled in a story on the USA Weightlifting page at teamusaorg. “During my time as a weightlifter, I worked with people in the weightlifting setting, helping them reach their fitness goals. I knew then that nursing was an outlet for me.”

Her fiancé, Tom DiStasio, was the associate head strength and conditioning coach at Sacramento State from 2011 until 2018, when he was hired by Baltimore’s Morgan State University to be its head strength and conditioning coach. Peck, having lived in Northern California all 27 years of her life at that point, joined him and enrolled at Notre Dame of Maryland.

“I have lived in Baltimore for 2½ years and it is a great city,” Peck told the Register via email on Saturday. “I really enjoy Baltimore. There is a lot of history to the city and the downtown inner harbor is beautiful. I enjoy being close to Washington D.C, Philadelphia and New York City. There are also a lot of hidden gems out here. It has been a lot of fun exploring the various areas.”

While she earns a bachelor of science degree in nursing and looks to get a job after her August graduation, she is in the fourth month of an externship at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

“My passion is in pediatric nursing,” she said. “My ideal job for when I graduate is to get hired on as a pediatric nurse in an acute care setting.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic blanketing the globe during her externship, she’s getting real-life experience no class could possibly have offered.

“The scariest thing that happened was finding out that my unit was converting to biomode,” she said. “This means that our unit was being prepared to care for COVID-19 patients.”

Peck feels that having been a top-level athlete who has worked with driven athletes in their prime prepared her well for working with sick people of all ages.

“Throughout my years as a competitive athlete, I have developed leadership skills, self-discipline, perseverance and self-motivation. I have faced the high demands of practice, competitions and academics and these experiences have helped me succeed as a nursing student,” she said.

“Working as a nurse is like preparing for a competition. Training takes accountability and competitions take an ability to handle high-pressure situations. I have a strong desire to perform well and help others succeed, and that is the same craving that I will take with me as I dive into the nursing profession.”

She was asked if her profession scares her or gives her a sense of duty, especially during a pandemic with an uncertain end.

“I never thought I would become a nurse in the middle of a pandemic. The entire situation is surreal,” she admitted. “This pandemic has not changed my excitement to become a nurse. I feel frustrated because I am ready to be out on the front lines as a nurse, but I can’t because I am not due to graduate until August.”

Although much has been made about doctors and nurses being overwhelmed in big cities such as Baltimore, Peck said her externship has been about all she could have hoped for.

“I don’t think that it has been hard at all,” she said. “The nurses at Johns Hopkins are great and they are always willing to help or teach me new things no matter the circumstance. In recent months, I have moved around to help on various units throughout the hospital. The nurses have been so nice and helpful on every unit that I have worked.

“There were several nurses on my unit that tested positive for the virus. Fortunately, I do not know of anyone who has perished.”

The April 2 story at teamusa.org noted that Peck worked in an intermediate medical unit, helping patients as they came out of surgery.

“The vibe of the hospital has certainly changed,” she told the website. “Since early March, at first, visitors weren’t allowed, then all the tables and chairs were turned upside down and it has quickly evolved from there.

“When I’m not working, I am staying home as much as I can. It’s not worth it (to go out unnecessarily). We want to flatten that curve. Just because you’re young and healthy doesn’t mean you can’t get this. Even if you get it and you don’t have symptoms, you’re a carrier and if you go out into the community you can easily transmit it to someone who may have a far worse reaction.”

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

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These are the stories of 2019 I enjoyed writing most, because they had good anecdotes or were about making history.

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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.

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