She’s Hooked on Adventure

Bonnie Henry
Arizona Daily Star, March 5, 2003

She is, by her own admission, an adrenaline junkie. “I don’t know where it comes from,” says Mary Peachin. “My parents were afraid to walk across the street. But Ive flown my own plane, gone sky diving and bungee jumping.”

These days, the lady gets her kicks by swimming with sharks – reef, hammerhead, blue, you name it. It took a hundred dives before she spied her first shark. “It was in the Caribbean, a reef shark, sleek and graceful, about 5 feet long.” Apprehensive up until then, Peachin was instantly hooked – so hooked that shes since sought out the seas most-feared creature from the Philippines to the Galapagos Islands.

Shes even written a just-out book on the subject, “The Complete Idiots Guide to Sharks,” which she’ll be signing Sunday and Monday. Still, shes the first to admit that shes no expert on the subject. “I only know about my own experiences,” says Peachin, who relied on five shark experts, plus a collaborator who did all the research for the book. The result is both personal and academic. (Don’t miss the well-researched chapter on shark sex.)

It all began in the late 1970s, when Peachin – a native Tucsonan whose family once owned the old Levys department store – went snorkeling in San Carlos, Mexico. Not long after, her husband, David, presented her with dive gear and scuba lessons. Seven hundred dives later, shes still using the same mask and fins -and still pursuing adventure.

“I chased the whale shark for 23 years,” says Peachin, who finally caught up with the creature three years ago off the Galapagos. “The current was so strong that the dive master said we could be swept out to sea. We were hanging on for dear life. The barnacles were ripping our fingers. It was thrilling.”

Yes, indeedy. So was the encounter with that saltwater crocodile off the Solomon Islands, that close call with hundreds of sea snakes near the Philippines, and that jellyfish bite in Micronesia. “Ive been bitten dozens of times, but this time I got a bad reaction,” says Peachin, who saw half of her body swell up. She’s also had to bop a few sharks on the nose while cage-diving. “Nobody said I wasn’t scared. That’s when you get the adrenaline rush.” Still, she remains wary. “If an aggressive shark is following me, I will start heading up. If it ascends with me, I get out of the water.”

Though her two children are also certified divers, most of the time Peachin goes it alone, averaging two to three dive trips a year. “Most of the divers I’m with are the age of my children,” says Peachin, 61.

In the early 90s, she started selling her stories to a number of publications. “I call it adventure travel,” she says. She also maintains a Web site at As for the book, “I have this agent in New York who had some of my shark-diving articles. He heard that the Idiots series wanted a book on sharks. I think it may have germinated after all that shark-attack media in the summer of 2001.”

She will be signing her book, which goes for $18.95, from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 5130 E. Broadway. A second signing is 7-9 p.m. Monday at the Foothills Mall Barnes & Noble, 7325 N. La Cholla Blvd.

Two weeks later, she’ll be off on another diving trip, this time chasing humpback whales – and another hit of adrenaline.