“Every time I walk in, I just get this weird feeling in my gut. It's a little scary because every time I walk in I'm exposed to COVID-19.”
In January, as infections began blossoming in China, Mary Peck traded her singlet for scrubs, accepting a nursing externship role at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Peck, the 63kg National Champion in 2016, is one of countless healthcare professionals who report to work every day, answering our nation’s plea in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“The hospital has asked for volunteers on my floor to help take care of COVID-19 patients,” Peck said to USA Weightlifting. “At this moment, I am not working in direct-patient care with COVID-19 patients. But we haven’t even seen the peak of [infection] yet.”
An elite gymnast at Sacramento State, Peck graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in health science. She then put her medical aspirations on hold to chase another dream and took up competitive weightlifting. Peck represented Team USA at the 2015 IWF Grand Prix, 2016 World University Championships and the 2017 Pan American Championships.
A native of Napa, California’s famed wine region, Peck said it was weightlifting that solidified her choice to devote her life to helping people.
“I’ve wanted to be a nurse for a very long time,” Peck said. “But I didn’t know my reason why until I got into weightlifting. 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.”
Now retired as a competitive athlete, Peck is in the final months of her nursing school program at Notre Dame of Maryland University. She has her eyes set on a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree and a job as a registered nurse after graduation in August. At Hopkins, Peck works in an intermediate medical unit, helping patients as they come out of surgery.
“The vibe of the hospital has certainly changed,” Peck said. “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.”
Hopkins, like every hospital across America, has tightened restrictions for visitors and strengthened sanitation measures to protect staff and patients alike.
“When I’m not working, I am staying home as much as I can,” Peck said while echoing calls from infectious disease experts about the importance of isolation and social distancing.
“Just stay home. It’s not worth it. It will make a difference. We want to flatten that curve. If you don’t have to go out, don’t,” Peck said. “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.”
Based on the current trajectory of infection in the United States, it seems inevitable Peck will get the call to transition her role at the hospital and begin giving aid to those battling COVID-19.
But despite the fear, anxiety and uncertainty surrounding this crisis, Peck said she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I love working with people and I love helping people,” Peck said. “If the time comes [for me to go to the front lines], I will go in and work hard and try to save lives.”
USA Weightlifting wants to recognize all of the heroes helping our nation navigate this unprecedented crisis. Nominate your hero on social media using #HometownHeroUSAW and we’ll feature some in the coming weeks.