Interview with MaryKay Mullally

Jamaican Mary Kay Mullally is one of the 5 winners in the ABC News and Prevention Magazine Picture of Health Contest. After going across the US looking for women over 40 who inspire others to make healthy choices she was chosen as one of the winner. There was a grassroots effort in the Jamaican community to vote for her online. We discuss this effort and how she got involved in this contest.

As we Jamaicans say “Which part of Jamaica are you from”? 
I am from Kingston – I was born and grew there. I went to St. Andrew High School for Girls.

How long have you lived in the US? 
My husband Rob and our 2 children Ryan (20) and Tara (17) moved to southern California in 1999 so we have been here for about 9 years

How did you land on the west coast?
I took a position at a local San Diego software company to manage their development team in 1999.  I knew the owner of the company from a consulting project we worked on together at the Bank of Jamaica in the late 80’s and we had continued to work together after the project ended.  I had recruited a team of local developers to develop software for his company offshore from an office I opened in Kingston and because of the huge success of our team he asked me to head up his core development team in San Diego 2 years later.

How did you hear about the Picture of Health contest?
 A week or so before the competition was due to close,  a colleague who had read an article about Step Up For Life – the beginner’s half marathon training program I founded in 2004 sent an email to me with a link to the competition encouraging me to enter.  I had never heard about the competition before, and it was the second year it was being run.

Did you enter or did someone enter you?
I entered myself and submitted my video and essay on the day the competition closed!  I was inspired to enter because I saw it as an opportunity to inspire others through the media.  I had to overcome my discomfort of putting myself on camera to do the video, and just did it anyway.

Did you have your families support?
My family was incredibly supportive but like me thought the chances of being selected as a finalist were slim.

Did you hear about the grassroots effort by many Jamaicans online encouraging other in the Jamaican community to vote for you? 
I was overwhelmed by the response from the Jamaican community.  It started with a random act of kindness by Jon McKie aka the MadWhiteJamaican, who has a huge following on Youtube for his hilarious and wildly entertaining skits.  He got wind of the competition and made a video appeal asking Jamaicans to come together to support me.  The response was nothing short of amazing to me and my family. Jon also forwarded the link to Hansen at  who has a monthly newsletter circulated to over 70,000 Jamaicans overseas.  Hansen is an amazing leader who is dedicated to the upliftment of Jamaica and Jamaicans worldwide.  He did a whole issue on me and once that hit the web the response was nothing short of a miracle.  The day the newsletter went out I was about 40,000 votes behind the person in first p!
By that night I was ahead by a couple thousand votes and by the time the voting was curtained 3 days later I was over 26,000 votes ahead!  People not only voted but often forwarded the link to everyone they knew.  It went viral very quickly and suddenly I was hearing from school friends I had lost touch with and had not seen since I graduated from high school in 1977.  I got an email from my father’s personal assistant who I had lost touch with after he died in 1989. I got another from a close family friend who I had not seen since I was a teenager; I and recently I received an email from a relative of my father who had been forwarded a follow up article that was in the Sunday Outlook magazine. The support was amazing.  It made me extremely proud to be Jamaican. I have received dozens of emails and phone calls from people all over the US, Canada and even Jamaica.

How did you get started doing marathons?
I was inspired to run a marathon by the Jamdammers who now organize the annual Reggae Marathon in Negril.  A group of their members came to San Diego to run the inaugural San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon in 2000 and we knew a couple of people in the group personally. We hung out with them for the few days while they were in town and went out to support them on race day.  They were a collection of all ages, shapes and sizes and their positive can-do attitude was an inspiration and a wake up call.  I thought if they could do it so could I.  I had allowed my fitness and diet to slide as a result of my demanding schedule and I wasn’t getting any younger – so I thought I am going to set myself a goal of running a marathon in my 40th year.

What was the hardest part of starting out to run marathons? 
Getting out of bed and getting out the door was the biggest obstacle! Running a marathon takes running – a little at first and a little more each week and sometimes it doesn’t feel good when you push too hard.  Overcoming the possibility that I would go out and not feel good or hurt was the biggest hurdle for me.  So I focused on how I would feel after each run; how satisfied and fulfilled it would feel to meet my goal for that day – to run a certain distance and to be fit and healthy.  So literally the biggest hurdle was to get my shoes on and get out the door.

Tell us about marathon organization your founded called Step Up?
tep Up For Life began as a community project in a course I did with Landmark Education in 2004 called the Self Expression and Leadership Program.  This program is designed to train and develop people to express themselves fully, be leaders in their communities and be effective in their lives regardless of the circumstances they may be up against.  Participants select project that inspires them and will make a difference for their community as a part of the course.  I wanted to empower women to do something they never thought they could do with the support of others just like themselves, and in the process become more healthy and fit.  Step up For life is started as a beginners Half Marathon Training Program for Women. I took women who had never run before and trained them to complete a half marathon in 3 months.  We ran 3 sessions per year for local half marathons and since then we have trained hundreds of women. 

I have now expanded my business into a wellness coaching practice and have helped hundreds of men and women to lose weight and reclaim their health and well-being. So my focus is more on this aspect of my business.  I also coach people via the phone over a period and help them to achieve their individual health, weight or fitness goals. I can work with practically anyone anywhere.

What would your advice be for someone who wants to start running marathons?
Make a commitment to yourself. Pick a race, register and start running. It helps when you have a buddy to keep you accountable too

Will you be running in the Negril Reggae Marathon this year? 
Not this year!

Do you foresee doing workshops in Jamaica on running marathons?
Absolutely! I have already been asked to speak at the expo for a Triathalon in Montego Bay later this year. My focus is more on supporting others to achieve their health, wellness and weight goals than strictly on marathon running although I can definitely be a resource for people who want direction in this area.

Unfortunately being a finalist your age is published. You look really good for your age. What is the reaction when you tell most people your age? I was recently interviewed regarding my routine following the Picture of Health Competition on stage at an event with over 6,000 people and when I said my age – there was an audible gasp in the audience. Many people came up to me after to say how shocked they were – so that really says it.

Your mentioned you had a technology career. Many in technology industry get burned out quickly. Did this contribute to you making more healthy choices and running marathons? 
 I turned to running initially as a stress reliever and to give me balance so it was a big factor for me.

Did marathons become your “comfort” away from the technology career?
 Running marathons for me was about pushing the edge of my capabilities and keeping myself present to what is possible rather than what isn’t.  It is about being in tune with my body mind and spirit – being at me best and inspiring others to do the same.

As one of the winners you received $10,000 to donate to their favorite charity. Tell us about your charity, NEADS Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, and how did you get involved with them?
I donated my winning cheque of US$5,000 to NEADS (Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans), of Princeton MA. The organisation trains rescued dogs to assist persons who are deaf or physically disabled in leading more independent lives.  I chose NEADS because this was the original charity I donated money to when Step Up For Life was first founded, and because I think that it is very important to empower the disabled and give them the gift of independence, while giving animals that may have otherwise been destroyed a valuable purpose.

To learn more about my wellness programme visit

Thanks for your time. Any advice to women about making healthy choices? 
Focus on what you want not the roadblocks in your way.  Make a commitment to yourself and then get into action my making small changes and small steps every day.  If you have a setback, get back on track right away – your failures don’t mean anything about you and are actually access to your ultimate success.  Share your goals with the people who love and support you. Each time you share it will inspire you and make the outcome real right now.