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Mary Gooze

Mary Gooze met her goal of celebrating her 60th birthday by doing a series of 60-related activities. She’s shown here on a trip to Tucson in 2010.

When Mary Gooze was preparing to turn 60 last year, she made a list of 60 goals, all related to the number 60, that to some observers seemed preposterous.

Gooze, who lives with her husband Rob in Oregon, sent me a note — I then phoned her — explaining how at 59 she decided she wanted to do "something both meaningful and challenging" in her 60th year.

The list of 60 things Gooze proposed to accomplish in 2011 included climbing 60,000 feet; practicing the piano for 60 minutes for 60 days; reading 6,000 pages; identifying 60 birds in Costa Rica; making a quilt with 60 squares; and doing 60 push-ups at one time. There were 54 more, but you get the idea.

Just reading the list made me want to lie down. There were a couple I thought I might be able to handle. I figured I could bet $60 at the horse track in Arlington, Ill., and I knew I could sample 60 bottles of wine, at least if someone else was buying. But that was about it.

Gooze, though, was undaunted. Retired, the resident of the Madison area for three decades has always been an achiever: a triathlete, a volunteer for good causes, a world traveler. Recently, her kids joked she was slowing down. She was going to prove them wrong.

I wished her well and said I hoped she would keep me posted.

Last week, Gooze got back in touch. She shared the story of her 2011 — it was extraordinary — and she shared some recent news that has her reflecting again on the past 12 months and what she learned from them.

Not surprisingly, the list was never far out of her thoughts, starting a year ago this month.

"I got a little obsessed with the whole thing," Gooze said. She added that the list became like a member of the family — maybe a great-uncle, she said, who's a little weird but lovable for his quirks.

Easy and hard, fun or not, the items got checked off. Gooze pledged to bake 60 dozen cookies, and did, while being reminded why she never cared much for baking.

She made a quilt with a goal of 60 squares. Had she ever done one before?

"Oh, heavens no," she said.

But she has a sister who walked her through it. One of the best parts of the year were the friends and acquaintances who surfaced, always willing to help, when word got around about her quest.

Gooze donated the quilt to the YWCA in Madison. When she made 60 mittens, she donated those, too. When she had to invite 60 friends to a party, she turned it into a charitable fundraiser that generated $1,500 for polio inoculations.

She still is searching for a positive spin on doing 60 regulation push-ups all at one time. Full disclosure: Gooze did 40, took a brief break — 60 seconds, of course — and then did the final 20.

Reading 6,000 pages proved easy. Gooze read best-sellers such as "Unbroken" and "In the Garden of Beasts" and went back to books published in 1951 — 60 years ago — such as "The Caine Mutiny."

She contacted six famous people born in 1951 to tell them about her adventure and author Bill Bryson sent a personal note in reply. The Ben & Jerry's guys sent coupons for ice cream.

Presumably, Gooze could have used them after a July trip to Colorado with 12 friends in which she spent nine days climbing in what she calls the "glorious" Colorado mountains. The trip put her over her goal of 60,000 feet climbed.

Gooze wrote 60 letters and found the recipients grateful to receive personally written notes in the electronic age.

"That's something I'll keep doing," she said.

She completed the list in December feeling better than she had in years.

And then, just days ago, in early January, Mary Gooze was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"It seems like all of last year was in preparation for this," she said last week, as she was readying for surgery and treatment.

"I know how to set goals," she continued, "and now I have a new set of goals. I know it will be hard, but I also know I can come out ahead."

She has a great support system — Rob, in particular, who was there almost every step of the way in 2011 — and a lot of people pulling for her.

"I don't think I'll be climbing a mountain this year," she said.

Maybe not, but I wouldn't bet against 2013.

Contact Doug Moe at 608-252-6446 or dmoe@madison.com. His column appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

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