It was nine years ago that Johnson City Press readers were introduced to a young Johnson City mother whose husband was killed in a motorcycle crash in Carter County just a few weeks after the couple learned they were expecting triplets.
The newspaper followed 26-year-old Lesley Mathes through the final months of her pregnancy and caught up with her family again on the triplets’ first birthday for a report on their progress and the generous community response their story inspired.
One week short of the triplets’ birthday, their mother, who is now Lesley Bowen, gave us an update on what has been nine very busy years for the family, and shared the latest news on Marley Mathes-Bowen — the triplet who was never expected to walk — who will compete in her first 5K with Girls on the Run today.
Born at 26 weeks gestation, the triplets have had their challenges. Between them, they have been through a total of seven surgeries, including one to repair an artery in Marley’s heart. The boys, Miles and Malik, each have had a pair of hernia operations. Miles has been through two shunt placements near his spine. Marley, who has glaucoma, also has had two eye surgeries and may have another one early next year.
Her vision is low but her glaucoma is controlled, her mother said. With lenses she’s close to 20/40. Marley also has an underlying diagnosis of cerebral palsy although, Bowen said, “You can’t tell to look at her.”
Malik, who had respiratory difficulties throughout his toddler years, has a sleep disorder. He and Marley both have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Miles still has his shunt. And all three children have learning issues, mostly in math and reading. But, as their mother says, “you can’t tell” anything is amiss talking with the kids.
“It’s OK,” being a triplet, said Miles, the largest and most laid back of the three, with a gift for mediating sibling disputes. “You’re born together. You’re the same age. You have the same birthday,” he explained.
“It’s cool,” Malik said of being one of three. Three is a good number for playing games, he said. And he likes sharing a room with his brother.
As for Marley, who is fondly referred to as the triplets’ “boss,” she says, “I just like having two brothers because I got my own room and I like being by myself. And I have two closets, which helps my mom with winter clothes and summer clothes and the oxygen thing that’s in there with all the tubes.”
The triplets are third-graders this year at Woodland Elementary School, where their mother has been a teacher for the past eight years. This year is her first as a special education resources teacher, a career path she said follows her own children’s needs but is also one that she earnestly enjoys. “I really like it because you meet the special needs of kids with learning disabilities and physical disabilities, and you cater your course to them,” she said.
She began teaching again part-time when the triplets were 6 months old and returned full-time when they were 1½. When the triplets were 5, she married Keddrain Bowen, owner of Fanatics 101 stores at The Mall at Johnson City and Asheville, N.C. While Keddrain is the only dad the triplets have ever known, their mother said they hyphenate their last names so they will always have something that belonged to their late father, Marcus Mathes.
Their family also includes the triplets’ older brother, Connor Mathes-Bowen, 12, and Shakeena Bowen, 13, who attend middle school together at Indian Trail. And then there is Trinity Bowen, a 4-year-old preschooler at Woodland, who her mother likes to call “the new version.”
With six children, a full-time job and a husband with two small businesses, it’s hard to imagine how she finds time but, like Marley, Lesley Bowen has also taken up running. She did her first half-marathon last year. And, she said, “I also coach.”
At today’s Girls on the Run 5K on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus at Mountain Home, the family is placing all bets on Marley, who finished third out of 30 girls in a recent practice 5K. The race starts at 2. While all the Girls on the Run entrants will be sporting the No. 1 on their bibs, Marley will be the girl with the long blond ringlets and a boyfriend named Luke waiting at the finish line.