Meanwhile, she continued engaging in water polo, kickball, swimming, spinning and classes to strengthen her core and boost aerobic prowess. "Your body is your anchor," she says.
In April and July, Kocy journeyed to California for short, intense water-skiing stints. "Water-skiing is a blast," she says. "It's the closest thing I can imagine to flying and driving a race car."
Raising money for veterans boosted her adrenaline. Kocy talked with friends, colleagues, clients and anyone who would listen everywhere she went, from the doctor's office and kickball court to the beauty parlor and the subway. With social networking sites and email, she extended the outreach even further.
People encouraged her and offered advice, recalls her older daughter, Lillian Rusk, 20, a senior majoring in international relations at George Washington University.
"She really had to kind of build the momentum for this on her own," says Lillian.
Her momentum propelled her to the start of the 30-mile trip, which began at 7 a.m. and lasted an hour and 40 minutes. Kocy hung on to a handle attached to a 70-foot rope. The wind wasn't as strong as expected, and luckily, the tide moved in the same direction.
For most of the ride, the waves crested at 2 or 3 feet. But where the Harlem and Hudson rivers meet, whirlpool currents overturned Kocy's steady balance. She fell in the water, near a bridge abutment. Nonetheless, "she had a big smile on her face," says her husband of 23 years. She got back up and persevered.
That didn't surprise Jennifer Loftus, president of HR/NY, the local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, which supports Kocy's cause by providing career-building resources to veterans.
"Mary's enthusiasm, dedication and concern are contagious," Loftus says. "She has taken an idea and turned it into a viable activity for positive change."
Also of interest: Giving back to vets. >>
Susan Kreimer is a writer in New York.