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Fasi’s ‘initiative and clout’ brought marathon to Honolulu

  • COURTESY PHOTO
    Frank Fasi joined Honolulu Marathon winners Carla Beurskens and Ibrahim Hussein at the conclusion of the 1987 event.
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Cleaning day at the office turned into a treasure hunt of sorts.

After last year’s Honolulu Marathon, Dr. Jim Barahal, the event’s president for nearly a quarter century, was tossing out old files cluttering a storage closet, but paused before sending one particular item to the dumpster.

"We came upon a box that actually said ‘1973,’ and said maybe we should take a look at that, that could be interesting," Barahal said.

Buried under the stacks of entry forms and other long since forgotten items from the marathon’s first year were pieces of correspondence providing a glimpse into the event’s origins.

Among those were letters from Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi that illuminated his role in the marathon’s inception.

"We had never actually seen these documents because they were buried in a box in a binder in a crowded storage room," Barahal said.

"Clearly, the idea came from Frank Fasi. It was not only his idea, it was his initiative and clout. The power of the mayor’s office really made this thing happen. He was the driving force."

For his contribution to getting the race on its feet, Fasi will be inducted into the Honolulu Marathon Hall of Fame tomorrow at the Hawaii Convention Center.

A ceremony held in conjunction with the Honolulu Marathon Expo is scheduled for 11 a.m.

"He was really proud because he started it to showcase Hawaii and help Honolulu and the economy, and when it became so big, I think he was pleasantly surprised," said David Fasi, son of the six-term mayor who died on Feb. 3 at age 89.

David Fasi recalled sitting down to dinner when his father, who grew up on the East Coast, ran the idea of establishing a marathon here past his family.

"I remember him coming home one day … and he said, ‘they always have this marathon in Boston, and what do you think about having one in Honolulu?’ " David Fasi said.

"His whole thing was to showcase Honolulu. He’d say, ‘Can you imagine them running in cold Boston. Wouldn’t they want to come run around Oahu?’ "

Tommy Kono, the Olympic weightlifting gold medalist, was working for the city at the time and saved the letters recently uncovered by the marathon’s staff.

Among the documents was a letter Fasi sent to Lt. Colonel C.H. Greenley of the Mid-Pacific Road Runners Club dated Sept. 7, 1973, inviting the club to work with the Department of Recreation on "a future Honolulu Marathon."

A portion of the letter reads: "Having been born and raised in New England, I have long been impressed by the magnitude and success of the famous run in Boston. It seems to me that Honolulu could well host such an event, considering local interest and our location in the Pacific area."

He promised the city’s support in such an endeavor, and a little more than three months later, Duncan Macdonald and June Chun led a group of 167 entrants from downtown Honolulu to Hawaii Kai and back to Waikiki in the inaugural race held Dec. 16, 1973.

The event — born in the early stages of the running boom of the 1970s — steadily grew, injecting a sizable dose of cash into the state as runners from around the world were attracted to the race. Participation peaked in 1995 with 34,434 entrants, 21,717 coming from Japan.

Elite runners now head the field with about 21,500 participants entered for Sunday’s race, with late registration expected to add to the final total.

"He thought it would be good for Honolulu’s image," David Fasi said.

"On the athletic side, he always thought Hawaii was the best place to have sporting events from when he was campaigning in the ’60s."

Barahal is in his 24th year as race president and worked with Fasi, who served as the race’s starter on occasion, in his later terms as mayor.

"I think he laid the groundwork for the cooperation with the City and County of Honolulu with the marathon, which is critical," Barahal said.

"He was a huge supporter of the marathon and really made sure we got what we needed. But he never said, to me at least, that ‘I created this.’ It was very interesting, he never went on about that."

 

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