Imagine enjoying your vacation in Costa Rica when, suddenly, a pandemic surges to the front page of every newspaper, and the paths home begin to close. Imagine that adventure is thrust upon you, where the hideaway promised by your dog-eared guidebook becomes your home, strangers become neighbors, and tourists become members of the community. What would you do? The aspirational answer, as it turns out, is personified by appellate attorney, Mary Lehman, who made peace with a worthless plane ticket, bought a surfboard, struck up a friendship with surfing icon, Robert August, and began hunting waves northward into Nicaragua. A year later, having finally returned home, Mary is still surfing.
But this was not Mary Lehman’s first adventure. She served on ski patrol for two years in Santa Fe, New Mexico, then jumped into fighting wildfires as one of the first female members of the “Hotshot” crew, which is called upon to battle the most challenging areas of the forest fire.
Later, as chronicled in detail by other publications, Mary swerved into professional boxing. She showed up for an aerobics class on the wrong day, ended up shadow boxing instead, and the rest is history. Mulita, “the Little Mule,” punched her way through the amateur ranks and went professional before her 40th birthday while raising twins and working full-time in civil writs and appeal at Gray, Cary, Ware & Friedenrich. Despite the long days and tough competition, she never lost.
The eventual end of Mary’s boxing career was not the end of Mary testing the limits. Instead, she embraced motocross. Not for the faint of heart, motocross involves racing motorcycles “off road” in circuits designed with critical corners and jumps. For Mary, the highs were very high, including winning 3rd Place in a Grand Prix. The final chapter, however, involved losing her bike at high velocity, flying through the air, and remembering (thankfully) that she needed to keep her knees bent and “turn the shoulder.” The primary result was a broken rib, scapula, and clavicle. The other result was having to write a difficult request for an extension of time to file a petition for writ of certiorari.
In recent years, Mary has seized challenges that involved less physical pain, but just as much intensity. Around 2015, after hearing that help was needed in the Syrian Refugee Crisis, Mary read up on European asylum law, packed her bags, and arrived on a beach in Greece. A couple years later, she showed up along the U.S.-Mexico border to lend a hand during the border crisis. In both instances, Mary volunteered as both a medic and an attorney. This type of work, she explains, is hard to stop; “the only cure is more volunteer work.”
Mary’s adventures, however, should not diminish what she has accomplished in her “day job” of civil writs and appeals. Mary enjoys her work, takes pride in producing excellence, and has earned widespread respect and appreciation in the legal community. But this interview should remind all of us that we should strive to know the people walking to the podium. And for Mary, whether we label a specific path as “life” or “work,” the guiding principle remains the same: “Always do what you are afraid to do.”