The sea breeze sweeps her black hair back. Wendy Lynn Parlier is looking straight ahead. Miles and miles of loops in face her as she thinks about the November marathon.
“They'll have to sweep me up off the street,” Parlier says. “I'm not going to quit. Because it's not about me.”
It's about the docile, meek sea cows that gave a name to Bradenton's county and one of its main streets.
Parlier is punishing herself for the manatee.
She is 43 years old and 245 pounds and is preparing to participate in seven marathons on seven continents to raise awareness and funds for the care and conservation of manatees and other marine mammals.
The volunteer approached the museum with the idea of running a marathon specifically for manatee care at the Parker Manatee Aquarium and dubbed the project “Marathon Aquatica,” which launched on June 8, World Oceans Day.
She is registered to run the Space Coast Marathon near the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral on Nov. 27.
The artist and Bradenton resident hopes to raise $25,000.
“I think this represents conservation issues around the world as well,” Parlier said. “They're a symbol like the panda. These guys are not aggressive and haven't had any predators in forever and haven't evolved to protect themselves against any predators.”
Parlier said the manatee has now had to deal with motorboat props, which carve scars into manatees' backs, as well as cold snaps.
To help raise money in part to provide Snooty and the with the crates of restaurant-quality romaine lettuce they scarf daily — at an annual cost of about $75,000 — Parlier has been running five days a week.
“When I started I was over 300 pounds,” Parlier said. “I'm heavy but I know I can do this. It will be challenging for me. But the biggest challenge is meeting the fundraising goal.”
Born in Bradenton, Parlier said she has seen the ecological importance of Florida waterways — and manatee protections.
“I believe this is the only place in the world where they're here year round,” Parlier said. “They have a huge ecological importance to the seagrasses, and I believe they also feed on some of the invasive grasses."
Parlier hopes to complete the other six marathons in three years, one every six months. After the November marathon, she plans on running in Australia for organizations focused on the rehabilitation of injured dugongs, large marine mammals similar to manatees. Other likely marathon sites include South America, to provide emergency-care funds for the Amazonian manatee; Asia, for dugong conservation and research projects in southeast Asia and Japan; and Africa, to fund a conservation project that benefits the West African manatee.
For more information or to donate, visit Parlier's website, marathonaquatica.com. She will provide the public with updates from her efforts.
The donations are processed through ActiveGiving.com.
“I spent six months researching how to donate to nonprofits,” Parlier said. “And none of the donations are given toward traveling expenses or marathon registrations. The money doesn't touch my hands — it goes straight to nonprofit.”
Parlier knows the folks at Parker Manatee Aquarium will be pulling for her.
“We are so fortunate to have an ambitious volunteer like Wendy Lynn committed to our work,” said Marilyn Marigold, aquarium director, in a news release. “Manatees are expensive to care for and we need help.”