Mary Peachin is proud to be a third-generation Tucsonan, a granddaughter of the pioneer Jewish Levy family. She’s also forged her own path. At 72, she can count flying her own plane, sky diving, bungee jumping and swimming with sharks among her experiences. Her life of adventure traveling began years ago.
“I give credit to my husband, David,” says Peachin. “He wanted to learn to fly. I said, ‘I want to learn, too.’ That was the start of it, in the late 1970s. I bought one-third of a Cessna Turbo 210. I must have been having a mid-life crisis. Then we spent two days in San Carlos, Mexico, and I didn’t want to get out of the water. I became a certified diver.”
Her husband, a semi-retired accountant, “is my biggest supporter,” she says. Apparently Peachin listened to her father, Leon Levy, nearly 50 years ago. She had already graduated from Tulane University, earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Arizona and was a single woman living in Chicago. Peachin was dating David, who drove her father to O’Hare International Airport at the end of a visit from Tucson. “That’s a nice Jewish boy,” Levy told his daughter. “You should take a second look at him.” The couple now has two grown children in their 40s and two grandchildren.
In 1983, “my husband bought me a bike,” says Peachin. “I didn’t know how to shift gears but I went on the [Greater Arizona Bicycling Association] ride across Arizona. It was a grueling experience. I was ready to give the bike to the closest orphanage in Nogales, but instead I went back next year and did it again.”
That cycling experience started a tradition of annual bicycle tours all over the world with her husband, who’s “far more selective” about where he travels, she says, and accompanies his wife on around 20 percent of her trips. The couple has gone on bicycle tours to the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the northwestern United States and Canada, the Czech Republic and Portugal. They’ve penciled in a trip to Newfoundland this summer.
Peachin’s trips are most often for work. She became a travel writer and photographer by chance. “David was working 12-hour days in the 1980s,” says Peachin. “I started diving in the Sea of Cortez like most [local] divers.”
After returning from a San Diego dive trip in the ’80s, where she went diving with sharks — one of her specialties — she ran into the editor of Phoenix Magazine in a Tucson parking lot. Hearing about her trip he said, “I want that story,” Peachin told the AJP. “That’s how I got started in travel writing. I’m still petrified of sharks. That’s where the adrenalin rush comes in.”
Peachin’s first book was “The Complete Idiots’ Guide to Sharks” in 2003. She has also written “Scuba Caribbean,” “Sharks the Sleek and the Savage: with up close and underwater personal encounters,” and “Sport Fishing the Caribbean” in collaboration with Doug Olander. She has written freelance articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Tucson Lifestyle, Arizona Daily Star and many other publications. Her photography is represented worldwide by Getty Images.
Peachin has visited all seven continents. Later this month she will be off to Vietnam — for the third time — and China. But even a seasoned traveler can run into problems. The last time she traveled to Vietnam, she says, “I forgot my visa. They detained me for 24 hours in a tiny, dirty room [that looked like] it was out of the Bates Motel from ‘Psycho.’ I stayed up all night swatting mosquitoes because of an outbreak of dengue fever. That was scary.”
But nothing has stopped Peachin so far. “I train six days a week” with Pilates, spinning and playing pickleball (“tennis for old farts”), she says. “I commit one to two hours a day to staying fit, to get myself out of the water diving when I need to, which I have a few times.
“The older you get the quicker each day goes by. You have to make every hour count. Your body begins to ache and your joints start wearing out,” asserts Peachin. “You have to ignore it and keep on trucking. I certainly don’t look like a shark diver but I’m one of the strongest women I know of at my age.”
Peachin admits that she has a lot of self-confidence. Her father, who was one of the founders of Temple Emanu-El, was a role model and “one of the great men in Tucson. It’s been great following in his footsteps,” she says. Although her parents were involved in the community, by no means were they “adrenalin junkies. I don’t know where it comes from. My parents were afraid to walk across the street.”
For Peachin, it’s essential “to continue to be motivated. As you age there are fewer opportunities where you can become better. When I started to play pickleball, I couldn’t serve for three months,” says Peachin. “You can’t be intimidated. Some people hit a wall and some people climb over it.”