NEWTON/WILMINGTON – Over the last few months, the Wilmington Town Crier has done a number of feature stories on our 'Where Are They Now' series. We have featured Lisa Cutone-Bacon, Bob Reid and Bob Butler, and this week, it's Mary McNaughton-Collins from the Wilmington High School Class of 1983.
McNaughton-Collins is regarded as the top distance runner in the history of cross-country and indoor and outdoor track at WHS. She became the first Class C Champion in cross-country, was a Class C Champion during the track season in the mile, while she broke and still holds five combined indoor/outdoor track records at WHS, including four individual. She was also the valedictorian of her class.
She moved on to Holy Cross where she was again an elite student-athlete with many academic and athletic awards and achievements.
She was a two-time All-American in cross-country, and was also an all New-England swimmer during one year of competition.
After graduating from HC, McNaughton-Collins became a doctor and has been employed at Mass General Hospital for the past 25 years. She currently lives in Newton, Mass, along with her husband Jim Collins and their two children.
ACRES TO PLAY AROUND
Mary is the youngest of three children to Jack and Patricia McNaughton and the family grew up on Hathaway Acres here in town. Her two older brothers Peter and John, also ran track at WHS for Mr. Kelley, graduating in 1975 and '76, respectively.
Mary remembers vividly playing all kinds of sports with her brothers and all of her neighborhood friends while growing up.
"It seemed like no matter what age you were, there would be a dozen boys or girls who you would hang around and riding bikes until the street lights went on," she said. "I just remember it being a very close knit, nurturing, fun childhood. It was just a tight-knit community of families. It just seemed like everybody enjoyed school, enjoyed each other and enjoyed sports whether it was organized sports, or I remember playing a lot of neighborhood stickball or tennis. You name it, we did it. We just had a blast."
She also remembers the times when her mother and father were the competitive ones in the family.
"They would join other parents over at the Avco (Textron) Tennis Courts and have these real competitive games," said Mary. "There was a pond there, so the kids would just play tag or something, but I remember watching some of those fierce matches. At that time, a lot of families built their own ice hockey rinks in their backyards and I remember the Murphys, the Magliozzis, so all of the kids in the neighborhood would always be playing sports together."
Mary's brothers live in Bradford, Mass and Hudson, New Hampshire with their combined five children. Their parents were married for 50 years, and just a few years ago, Jack passed away. Patricia, at the young age of 85, lives in Atkinson, New Hampshire.
"My mother is a hot ticket," said Mary. "She still drives and she's just an independent women. "She's close by to my two brothers, her grandchildren and she's soon going to be a great grandmother and she is very excited about."
POOLING HER TALENTS
Before she became the elite runner at WHS, McNaughton-Collins started her competitive athletic life at a young age in swimming.
"My mother had me in ballet and figure skating and those just weren't my cup of tea," said Mary. "Playing softball and tennis was a lot of fun. I just remember there were some swim lessons and I went to it, and just really loved the sport. Before long, no one was swimming from this small group here in town so I ended up swimming on the Woburn YMCA Swim team."
She said that growing up her brothers wanted to play ice hockey, but mom and dad said no because of the early morning practices and games. They didn't say no to the even earlier practices and meets for Mary's swimming.
"I guess I was the spoiled one," she said with a laugh. "I would get up with my parents at 4:15 am for a 5:00 am practice and then they would bring me back over for a night practice from 5-7. I loved swimming and couldn't get enough of it. That was from age of nine, right up through my freshman year in high school. I stopped because I wanted to be more involved with the high school activities."
When she arrived at WHS, she had always known who Mr. Kelley was after watching her brothers run for him. She said she had hoped that he would still coach by the time she got to the school.
"Mr. Kelley would come up to me at the lunch line and tell me that cross-country might be something that I could be interested in," she said. "So I literally hung up the bathing suit that freshman year, and was just so delighted that Mr. Kelley knew my name and was talking to me, and I ended up switching over to the cross-country team."
McNaughton-Collins won all kinds of awards during her swimming days as a child, including qualifying for the National Championships. Her competitive bathing suit was put away for about six years. It returned during her junior year at Holy Cross.
"Junior year in college I hurt (my back) so I would go up to our pool just to stay in shape," she recalled. "The swim coach came over and said 'I'm watching you do your own workouts, would you be interested in training with the team'? I was like sure. At that time, they had recruited three really good freshmen swimmers and I got to be on the relay team with them. I felt like the old lady on the team but it was just awesome to be part of all of that. To swim with that team got me into such great shape and it allowed me to rejoin the track teams."
McNaughton-Collins competed with the Holy Cross women's swim team during the 1986 season. After not swimming competitively for almost six years, she received All-New England honors.
CROSSING UP THE COMPETITION
McNaughton-Collins made an immediate impact on the WHS girls' cross-country team as a freshman during the 1979 season, which included finishing seventh at the Class C Meet and then taking 21st at the All-State Meet.
The accolades never stopped. She was undefeated in dual meets as a sophomore. As a junior, she was the Northern Area Champion, while she finished fifth at the Divisional Meet and 14th at the All-State Meet.
Butler, a former track and cross-country runner at WHS, said McNaughton-Collins was more than just a talented runner.
"Mary would create a distance so far in front of the competition that at the end of some of those races, we wondered if the other runners had gotten lost," he said. "Her freshman year, we all wondered if she had gotten lost? She ran effortlessly and blew the competition away in dual meets. She was also very sweet, classy and humble. Everybody loved Mary."
As a junior, she missed some time having to undergo a surgery, as well being diagnosed with anemia.
"I had an awesome anatomy class that year and we were learning the bones on the hip, so I was checking what we were learning, and I noticed a lump on the side of my hip," said McNaughton-Collins. "I ended up having to have surgery to remove the bone growth, and fortunately it was benign.
"Then in class one day, we pricked our finger to get blood and I was looking at it and said to my teacher that I didn't think I was matching it up right. So my parents took me to the doctor and I was diagnosed with anemia."
While that took her away from the courses for a bit, it didn't take her away from having the best individual cross-country season in program history as a senior. She was 7-1 in dual meets that season, losing only to Haverhill's Mary Schena. In four years, she was defeated four times, including one time taking a wrong turn.
That senior year, McNaughton-Collins broke course records at Wilmington and Tewksbury, as well as Chelmsford, but that was re-broken later in the season. She went on to become the Class B Champion, the first female runner to accomplish this feat in WHS history. In addition, she was second at the Catholic Memorial Invitational, fourth at the All-State Meet, fifth at the Northern Area Meet and 26th at the Kinney Games held in New York.
Tom Stewart, a fine three-sport athlete (soccer, basketball and baseball) and a Wildcat fan forever, followed Mary's track career and knows greatness when he sees it.
"The thing I remember most about Mary is that was she as fast as the wind. She ran effortlessly and very efficiently. She had the smoothest stride I've ever seen," he said.
A four-time league all-star, who qualified for the all-state meet three times, McNaughton-Collins was named a Boston Globe All-Scholastic after that season.
"I always remember Mr. Kelley's voice. He had polio so he had trouble with mobility, but he could move fast," she said. "You always thought that he was everywhere and you could always hear his voice. He was always so positive and inspiring. By far, cross-country was my favorite sport – it was way better than being on indoor and outdoor track. I just loved cross-country and being able to run through all of the different kinds of weather and the terrains.
"When you ran for Mr. Kelley, it wasn't all of this intensity. You wanted to run well for him and for your teammates, but he always made sure that he kept it fun. He would always have the best attitude about us becoming the best people that we could. He knew that we were students first. He was just a phenom as well. He was just bigger than life, especially here in Wilmington."
Academically, McNaughton-Collins was off the charts at WHS. She was the class valedictorian, while she was selected as the Larry Cushing Award Winner for sportsmanship and was the Army Reserve Student Athlete.
TRYING TO KEEP TRACK
Besides cross-country, McNaughton-Collins certainly excelled in indoor and outdoor track. In indoor track, she placed first at the 1983 Coaches Invitational Meet, was second in the mile at the Class C Meet, and sixth at the Eastern Championships. That same year, she broke school records in the mile at 5:03.6 and in the two-mile at 11:10.9. Those records still hold today and no one has come close to touching them. In 2016, Elisabeth Olson finished at 5:29.39 in the mile and in 1985, another All-Scholastic runner Andrea Hayden finished at 11.21 in the two-mile and then in 2009, Ali Lyman finished at 11:50.92, and they rank No. 2 and No. 3 all-time.
McNaughton-Collins also still holds the outdoor records in the same two events, 5:02 in the mile and then 11:21.3 in the two-mile, which came in 1981. The next closest times are 5:31.47 by Olson in 2016 and Hayden was clocked at 11:30.6 in the two-mile in 1985.
Among Mary's other highlights outdoors, includes being crowned the Class C Mile champion, before finishing fourth at the New England Meet.
Besides the mile and two-mile records, McNaughton-Collins is also a part of the school record in the distance medley event, joining Sue Lawlor, Cathy Schultz and Lisa Desforge, who had a combined tome of 13:21 back in 1981.
"I grew up and trained with Lisa Desforge," said McNaughton. "We had a lot of fun together. We had a wonderful distance group and we had so much fun on our training runs."
That year, '81, the Wildcats went undefeated in the dual meets and captured their first ever Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title. That team had some tremendous talent, including Cheryl Branscombe, Karen Rowe and Desforge.
"Cheryl Branscombe was a great athlete and was just a kind, sweet soul," said McNaughton-Collins. "She was just so nice, just like Mr. Kelley always was. We just had a real nice group of people like Karen Rowe, who was a sprinter and a jumper and Anne Ryan (MacEachern) was a sprinter and there were so many others.
"That senior year, we also had a great group of people on the boys team and we were all a very close group and that just made the outdoor track season that much more special. We were able to do well too, so that just made it even more fun."
McNaughton-Collins was reminded about the league championship and said it brought back all kinds of fond memories.
"Mostly in the early years as a team, it was mostly about getting personal records and people doing their best," she said. "It didn't matter if we came in last place in the MVC, as long as people improved their time and when that happened, we celebrated. It was such a wonderful feeling to win as a team and we were looking left and looking right and it was like 'hey, look at us now'. The sense of pride Mr. Kelley had – he wasn't used to team wins – and he would say when we won that it was a team win because so many folks did their best on that day. That was pretty special when we did win (that league title) for Mr. Kelley."
In 1994, Mary McNaughton-Collins was elected into the WHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
ANOTHER CALL TO THE HALL
McNaughton-Collins was accepted to many Ivy League Schools including Harvard, Brown and Yale, but for different reasons, she chose Holy Cross and not for once regretted that decision.
Athletically, her accomplishments were once again off the charts. She was selected for numerous personal awards including All-New England and All-ECAC as a freshman and sophomore and was chosen to the 1984 All-National Catholic cross country team. She was a star harrier for the 1983 cross country squad which won the MAAC, ECAC and National Catholic cross country championships. She achieved All-American designation in both 1983 and 1984 before injury forced her to miss the 1985 season. When McNaughton-Collins returned in 1986, she was again chosen All-New England and All-ECAC.
She held records in the 1,500 meters indoors and then for the 880 and 3,000 meters outdoors.
During her freshman cross-country season, she placed third in the NCAA Division 2 National Championship, which at that point, was the highest individual finish in program history.
Mary said so much of her collegiate success goes back to the days with her high school coach.
"Mr. Kelley never wanted to burn us out and I felt at the time that we all had a lot more potential when we left there and I think that's what some of the college coaches may have seen when they were recruiting Mr. Kelley's athletes," she said. "I think there were other programs in the Merrimack Valley where you would see kids have their best years in high school but with Mr. Kelley, he nurtured us to get ready for college and for me, I know that really helped me when I was All-American during my freshmen and sophomore years.
"Holy Cross track-and-field and cross-country programs are just phenomenal programs, with a phenomenal coach. Similarly the Holy Cross swim coach and family were just so great and so welcoming. I was just fortunate enough to be able to compete on both teams."
A year before getting inducted into the WHS Hall of Fame, in 1983, McNaughton-Collins was enshrined at the Holy Cross University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Besides her athletic achievements, once again she excelled in the classroom. McNaughton-Collins was elected to Alpha Sigma Nu (Jesuit Honor Society) and was the recipient of the Lawlor Medal in 1987, given to the varsity athlete attaining the highest grade point average. Honored by the Varsity Club with the prestigious Judge John P. Cooney Award in 1987, she capped her career by winning an NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?
When she was a young adult, McNaughton-Collins worked at the Wilmington Regional Health Center, following in the footsteps of her mother, who also worked at Winchester Hospital. Even before getting her feet wet in the health care profession, Mary said the thought of being a doctor was always her main goal.
"I always wanted to be a physician," she said. "My grandmother was a nurse and I always wanted to be like her and she would suggest that I become a doctor and I said, 'OK'. I was always interested in medicine and it was just something that I had planned out. There was never any pressure saying this is what I'm supposed to do. I was really supported by my parents."
McNaughton-Collins earned her undergraduate degree in Spanish/Pre-Med at Holy Cross. From there, she went to the Dartmouth/Brown Joint Program in Medicine, then did her Residency and Chief Residency at Boston Medical Center. After that, she did a Fellowship in General Internal Medicine at Harvard where she received her Masters in Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health during fellowship. She continued her journey taking a position as an academic primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital where she's been for the past 25 years.
“The best part of my job is taking care of my primary care patients over many years and getting to know them and their families — that's what I love; that's what is awesome about my job,” she said. “I work at the Internal Medicine Associates (IMA) practice at MGH.”
Besides her practice, she also serves as the Director of Primary Care Physician Recruitment and the Director of Faculty and Staff Career Development for our MGH Division of General Internal Medicine.
"We strive to recruit a diverse group of physicians, and we work especially hard to recruit physicians who are under-represented in medicine," she said.
McNaughton-Collins was then asked about the pandemic and how involved she has been with the virus.
"As a primary care physician, we all played important roles with the hospital during the pandemic," she said. "We had a lot of patients who needed care. We learned how to get onto a telemedicine platform, teaching ourselves how to do video visits. A lot of my patients are in their 80s and 90s. Some of my colleagues worked inpatient in covid wards and some of us worked outside in clinics. During the surge, there were these respiratory clinics and that was our bread-and-butter. People were coming in with fevers and coughs, and they would get the test done and go for x-ray.
"To be honest, at Mass General Hospital, I never felt safer (since the pandemic started). We always have enough PPE, we have great communication and leadership from our command center everyday. All of this has just made me feel so proud to be a part of MGH team and the MGH Family.
Now we are working back and having about 25 percent of our patients coming back in to the hospital. It's really great to be able to welcome our patients back into the hospital, and now we will never lose telemedicine. It may be the best thing for our older patients."
McNaughton-Collins, like many other people in the medical field, seem to believe that the state and the country, has turned some corners when it comes to dealing with the pandemic.
"In my opinion, I have a lot of optimism. I know in the middle of March, it was kind of scary for that time during the surge where we were hoping we wouldn't be like Italy or New York. I do feel like the leadership here in Massachusetts, guided by some of my colleagues and other just real smart folks who are guiding some of the decision making (are the reasons to be optimistic)," she said. "As hard as it was to shut down the state and it breaks my heart to see the financial hit that we have taken, but we were not overwhelmed, we were not filled to capacity, the surge happened but it didn't overwhelm our Massachusetts Health Care System. Being at MGH, it didn't overwhelm the capacity of our Intensive Care Units.
"Now it's great because the numbers are coming down and we feel really confident that we can safely welcome patients back. I'm just really proud of where I was working at MGH and how it transformed so quickly from the way we were doing things in early March to where we are now with just everyone stepping up and doing their job."
CALCULATING A FUTURE
Mary first met her husband Jim in a calculus class while both attended Holy Cross and then quickly they realized they had something else in common: running.
"He was an awesome athlete and runner," said Mary. "He was a 4:17 miler."
Certainly running 4:17 times in the mile is extremely impressive, but what Jim has done since putting his competitive days behind him completely blows that away.
After receiving his bachelor's degree in physics from HC, while being the class valedictorian, he went on to earn a doctorate in Medical Engineering from the University of Oxford and from 1987 to 1990, he was a Rhodes Scholar, which is an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford.
According to his Wikipedia Page, he is currently an American Bioengineer, and the 'Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science and Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT. He is one of the founders of synthetic biology and has made multiple synthetic breakthroughs in biotechnology and biomedicine.
"Jim is currently working on diagnostics, vaccines and treatments for the pandemic right now," said Mary. "He has a few labs at both schools. And while he has worked, he always coached our kids in soccer and basketball. He has done a ton with his career but has always put his family first."
That family includes their two children Katie and Danny, who also have impressive resumes at their young age. This past fall as a junior at MIT, Katie was named an All-American cross-country runner after taking 15th at the NCAA National Championship Meet, while also selected as a Goldwater Scholar. She is also a two-time All-Region and All-Conference runner.
Before that, in high school, she earned 11 varsity letters in cross-country and track-and-field while attending Newton South High School. She was named a nine-time Dual County League All-Star, was a four-time DCL two-mile champion and a two-time divisional champion in the same event.
Katie will enter his senior year at MIT this fall where she is majoring in 'brain and cognitive sciences' with a minor in 'computer science'. She has received awards for Academic Excellence in her major, and also has received the Johnson & Johnson Research Fellowship, among many other accolades.
"Katie does research in artificial intelligence and neuroscience, with how the brain works in order to make artificial intelligence programs," said mom.
Danny just graduated from Newton South High School. He is also an outstanding student-athlete, who won the citizen scientist award. Unlike his sister and parents, he's not a distance runner. Rather, he's a high jumper, who will be attending Duke University in the fall to study Physics and Visual Media, while competing on the school's track-and-field teams.
This past year as a senior at NS, he broke the indoor and outdoor school and Dual County League records in the high jump, clearing 6-8.25.
"When Danny was in high school, in the off-season, he worked with Joe Patrone (of Wilmington)," said Mary. "Danny went twice to Wilmington High to do some high jump workouts, so talk about making your heart warm. We just got a big kick out of that."
A LITTLE DOWN TIME
At the beginning and at the end of the long interview, Mary stressed her appreciation to the newspaper for bringing back so many fond memories.
"I remember growing up reading the sports section and I'm just so grateful for this. I am just so honored that the Town Crier called me. I'm 55 years old and the Town Crier wants to have a conversation with me, so I'm just over the moon," she said.
Although she no longer lives in town, she still makes a point to come back and visit from time-to-time.
"The friends I had from that neighborhood growing up, I still hang with today," she said. "Beatrice Cutone-O'Brien, Susan Gillespie Martin, Margie Campbell, Anne Ryan-MacEachern and I still get together at a local restaurant in Wilmington a few times during a year. Every time we get together. We have an absolute blast."
Certainly Mary has a busy life between her family and her professional life. She finds time to meet her childhood friends a few times a year, and was asked if she still takes up the sport that has been such a big part of her life?
"Yes, I'm still running when I can with my daughter," she said, "although I train to be able to run her warm-up two-to-three miles — which feels like a race pace to me — and then she heads off for many more miles when I collapse in the driveway. I workout daily at 5 am and mostly do the Elliptical.
“When my daughter is home from college, I try to run a respectable three miles with her, mostly because she does the talking, I do the gasping for breath, and I get to hear what she's up to. I'm proud that light dawned on me recently that I can ride my son's bike alongside, and now can ride and keep up with her better and spend more time together on the roads gabbing. So yes, I still run, just not as much."
Mary has come full circle with her athletic life, she said she always remembers where it all started.
"I just can't say enough about growing up in Wilmington. I was just so fortunate and I am so grateful for all of the experiences that I had," she said.