Nothing stops this LDS grandma who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints later in her life.


(Click for a free sample of my new book: The Three Pillars of Zion. Use this code in the coupon box for a 20% Christmas discount: Meridian. Good until December 15th)

When she was growing up in Georgia, Mary Louise Zeller picked up a descriptive moniker from her father: “A Dog with a bone.” Try to hide it and she will find it; try to take it from her and you might get your hand bitten off. Such is the tenacity of the oldest living world-class athlete in Taekwondo.

Mary Louise is a ferocious competitor, who hates to lose as much as she loves her family, friends and religion. She is also an avid proponent of ‘youthing’—turning back the aging process with attitude, nutrition and exercise. In fact, she has co-authored a book about anti-aging called Secrets of The Fountain of Youth. And if that wasn’t enough, she is the co-creator and co-presenter of “The Fenix Event,” a seminar that transforms the myth of aging, allowing for the participants to “invent the possibility of living life as ageless and limitless beings.”

Pretty good for a grandma who paints fingernails and toenails with fire-engine red polish and decorates them with little rhinestones.

Staring Down Adversity

So how did a 67-year-old woman become the poster child for being forever young, a 6th degree black belt, a Master Instructor, a world-class coach, the 20-time U.S. National Champion, nine-time world champion, an inductee into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame, and most recently selected for the 2010 U.S. national taekwondo team in the Technical Forms Division of Olympic Sport Taekwondo? 

Mary Louise gravitated to Taekwondo later in life. Adversity drove her there. If you were to engage her in conversation, she might come across as a demure southern belle, someone whom life has pampered. But such is not the case. Life’s tests have earned her a doctorate degree in adversity. Mary Louise’s childhood was laced with difficulties. Later, her first marriage ended in divorce, and she became something she thought she would never be: a single mother raising a son on her own.

Eventually she remarried and joined the Church. That was the good part, but more challenges followed.

 “My family had suffered a season of life-and-death circumstances. My youngest son, Adam, who was a toddler at the time, fell from a two-story building onto his head and  wasn’t expected to live. A priesthood blessing saved his life, but I was a wreck. I hadn’t known the term ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,’ but now I had a full-blown case of it.

“If that wasn’t enough, my husband, who is ten years my senior, contracted cancer and was told that he would not live. All of this took a toll, and I had to do something to regain my equilibrium.”

Now she was 44 years of age, emotionally spent, and by her own admission “out of shape.” Her response was to stare down adversity by launching head-long into full-contact martial arts. “I was counseled by my therapist that I should invest in myself so that I could better care for my injured toddler, so I hired a part-time nanny and signed up at the William Kim Taekwondo Studio.”

A bright move?

“I felt like the lone beached whale in a group of teenage boys. The next oldest person was twenty-five!”

She persevered. She recalls that she was in so much pain during her first month of training that she could only sleep in a warm bath. (Don’t try this!) But within six months, she placed second and third in tournaments. Within two years, she won her first national championship. Within nine years, she had won more than thirty gold medals. Given numerous opportunities to quit – fractured knee, broken foot, smashed nose, a jaw that has been dislocated three times, and most recently back surgery – she picked herself back up and pointed herself toward the future.

“I was over forty and at a crossroads,” she says. “I’ve always believed that God’s gift to me is my life, but what I do with it is my gift to God.” She decided to give God a gift, and in the process she gave a gift to herself, her family and the world.

“The martial arts are transformational,” she states; “they turn you into something you would not naturally become. I’ve found not only physical power, but power in focus. Taekwondo has given me so much more life and passion, really a second youth.” Then becoming reflective, “And there is something spiritual about becoming one with your body that supports and aligns itself with my LDS faith. When my physical and mental energy increased, my spiritual energy became stronger.” Truth is truth wherever you find it.



Here are some of Mary Louise’s achievements. One would be hard-pressed to find an athlete in any sport who has racked up such a resume.

  • Current U.S. National Gold Medalist in technique and forms in the 18 years and older and 2nd Master division. 
  • Twenty-time U.S. national champion in taekwondo.
  • Nine-time International Gold Medalist. 
  • Trained with the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team.
  • Inducted into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame (2004), and was acknowledged as the “International Female Competitor of the Year”. 
  • Recipient of the prestigious “Hwarang Warrior Award” for “Female Competitor of the Year” at the 2004 Korean Open.
  • Featured on CBS Saturday Morning with Katie Couric, NBC’s U.S. Olympic Gold, Extra, CBS, NBC, and ABC News.  
  • Featured in numerous regional and national publications, including Sports Illustrated for Women. U.S. National Taekwondo Team Member in the Mary Louise will represent the U.S. in the Pan American Games in Monterey, Mexico the first week of December 2010.
  • Holds the American Power Lifting Federation’s World Record in her age and weight division for the chest press.

In her sport, Mary Louise is affectionately called “Ninja Grandma,” but don’t let the “grandma” part fool you. She has a reputation. The younger competitors respectfully whisper, “Watch out for the old lady’s ‘ax kick.’ She’ll take you out in a heartbeat and feel no mercy.” With competitive zeal, Mary Louise has dominated sport that is populated by the young for nearly three decades. She consistently competes and wins against women from all over the world who are as many as twenty to thirty years her junior. And she shows no signs of slowing down.

Staring Death in the Face

Mary Louise’s same stubborn tenacity beat back her husband’s cancer and restored him to complete health.

“With no hope from the medical world, we took things into our own hands,’ she said. “We began to study nutrition like we would study the scriptures. We read everything and developed a plan…and we won!” After extensive research, the Zellers adopted a diet plan: cutting back on meat, consuming no sugar or refined foods, drinking plenty of pure water, eating fruits and vegetables, and carefully selecting cutting-edge natural food-based supplements.

The result?

“My husband, Ron, conquered cancer, and today, at age 77, he is completely healthy and runs 100-mile ULTRAmarathons and is a U.S. national and world champion weightlifter for his age.”

Clearly, this couple is exceptional. Ron continues his business consulting business, traversing the world, working with clients whom he has mentored for decades.

Like his wife, he shows no signs of slowing.

Facing Certain Financial Ruin

Staring adversity in the face and defeating it are Mary Louise’s life-long characteristics. She’s still that “dog with a bone” that her father described. Whether it be fighting back aging or nursing a critically-injured baby back to health or being unwilling to accept the death sentence of cancer, Mary Louise will not give up. Not even to the prospect of financial devastation.

“My husband has always supported us well,” she said. “For over 30 years, he has been a sought-after business consultant, who has clients all over the world. But with the recent economic turn-down, his clientele shrank to abysmal levels, and those who remained couldn’t pay. We tried to tough it out with our savings, but that money dwindled to nothing within two years. Then our mortgage was in jeopardy. Ron and l looked at each other and wondered, ‘What can we do? What can a man in his mid-70s do to reinvent himself?’”

The Zellers are not alone. Untold thousands of people have found themselves in the same situation: no job, no savings, no investments, behind on the mortgage and other payments. How many people are likewise wondering what to do next?

Mary Louise had an answer. At age 65, she stared down adversity once again and decided to reinvent herself. She would go into business for herself. Now, after only two years, she is doing so well that she and Ron could retire, if retirement were in their blood.

“I finally was able to give something back to my beloved husband, who has always carried the family’s financial burden. We saved our house; we are financially set for life; and we are now in a position to help others dig out of their financial problems.” That is how the Zellers operate: “When the Lord blesses you, He expects you to spread the blessings around.”

Looking back and counting blessings, Mary Louise has developed a philosophy: “Have you noticed in the scriptures that when Jesus set His mind to heal someone, He healed them completely? If you read carefully, He healed them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And I suppose if we knew the rest of the story, we would discover that He healed them financially. What good is financial healing if you are still sick? What good is healing your health, if you are still depressed? The only healing that matters is the healing that is across the board.”

What’s Next?

In July, 2010 August, Mary Louise won her 20th National Taekwondo title, but in the process, she damaged a vertebra in her lower back. Surgery followed. Now she is simultaneously recovering and training to represent the United States in the Pan Am games next year. “I still can’t kick over my head,” she says, “but I will get there.”

Somehow we believe that she will. She’s still that “dog with a bone.”

Author’s Note

(Click for a free sample of my new book: The Three Pillars of Zion. Use this code in the coupon box for a 20% Christmas discount: Meridian. Good until December 15th)