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Originally published April 22, 2010 at 8:42 PM | Page modified April 23, 2010 at 8:12 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Woman, 83, was vital, an athlete

The news reports called her an elderly woman. But Velda King Mapelli was so much more than that. "She was my mom," Stephanie Mapelli said just three days after Velda Mapelli died from injuries suffered when she was struck by a bicyclist while walking on the Cedar River Trail in Renton.

Seattle Times staff columnist

The news reports called her an elderly woman.

But Velda King Mapelli was so much more than that.

"She was my mom," Stephanie Mapelli told me Thursday morning, just three days after Velda Mapelli died from injuries suffered Sunday, when she was struck by a bicyclist while walking on the Cedar River Trail in Renton.

Police said Mapelli, 83, was walking east on the trail at about 4:30 p.m. when two cyclists, also eastbound, came up behind her. As they began to pass her on the left, Mapelli stepped in front of them and was struck.

Mapelli and one cyclist, 57, were knocked to the ground. The cyclist was treated at the scene, and Mapelli was brought to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with head injuries. She never regained consciousness.

Her family took her off life-support Monday morning, and she died just before noon.

The Renton Police Department's traffic unit is still investigating the accident, which Det. Robert Onishi believes is the first such collision on the trail.

That's the official story, Stephanie Mapelli said. The real story is that Velda Mapelli was hardly an old lady on a Sunday stroll.

"She really was an athlete."

Velda Mapelli walked three to five miles a day. Last fall, she went skiing with Stephanie and her daughter's husband, Michael, in Montana. In 2007, she traveled to China — alone.

As a teenager, while other girls her age were pinning photos of movie stars on their walls, Velda Mapelli was gazing at pictures of airplanes. She yearned to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II but missed that chance. She finally got her pilot's license in 1967 and flew solo "from the hinterlands of Alaska to the depths of Mexico," her daughter said. "She was the best pilot I ever flew with."

In 1977, Velda Mapelli helped revive and lead for several years the Air Race Classic, a competition in which female pilots fly stock airplanes 2,400 miles over four days. And when she wasn't flying, she was volunteering at Hope Link; or teaching ESL classes at Highline Community College; or getting books out of the Renton Public Library.

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Mapelli last spoke to her mother at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. They made plans for dinner at Stephanie's Beacon Hill home that evening at 5.

At 5:20, the phone rang. Stephanie figured it was her mother, saying she was running late. Instead, it was her daughter saying the police had called and that she should get to Harborview.

They stayed with her mother through the night, always holding her hand. Michael downloaded Willie Nelson's cover of "Stardust" (her favorite song) and set his MP3 player on her pillow, so she could hear.

After everyone had said goodbye, a nurse removed the breathing tube.

"I leaned over and told her that her work here was done, and that she should slide into her pilot's seat, call ground control and say you're cleared for heaven," Mapelli said.

Her mother took two shallow breaths, "and took off."

This weekend, Mapelli and her husband will plant an azalea beside the trail where her mother was struck. Something bright and hardy, like she was.

"She was vital, not elderly," Mapelli said. "And I guess the lesson she left is that life is meant to be lived.

"Find what excites you, don't be afraid of what you don't know and live."

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

It does get easier.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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