After finishing the Straub Women’s 10K in 1999, Gerry DeBenedetti went home and took a nap on the couch.
"I covered myself with this scratchy old afghan that someone had made," she said.
DeBenedetti, a retired professional organizer, despised the afghan and decided to find an alternative. "I got a brilliant idea to make my (race) T-shirts serve me in a quilt. After all, I had more than 20."
She enlisted the help of her mother and other quilting friends to complete the project. Her first quilt includes event T-shirts from 1978, the first year the race was held, to 1997. Since then, the Honolulu woman has made two other "decade" quilts and is waiting to complete a fourth in 2017.
"In the lower right corner of each shirt is my time for that year," she said.
DeBenedetti, 72, is one of nine women who have participated in all 33 races since the event’s inception. The others are Susan Allen, 66; Ann Arnone, 72; Judy Carlson, 69; Mollie Chang, 78; Calei "Sparkie" Ewing, 63; Betty J. Goodwin, 75; Eileen Kelleher-Ornelles, 64; and Vera Ross, 72.
The 6.2-mile race, a benefit for the Kapiolani Breast Center, was renamed the Straub/Kapiolani Women’s 10K in 2002, and this year became the Hawaii Pacific Health Women’s 10K. It remains an event designed to bring women of all ages together and welcomes both elite runners and those who walk or run for fun and fitness.
Organizers say it is the largest female-only sporting event in the state. The course starts at Kapiolani Park, goes up Diamond Head Road and makes a loop in Kahala before ending back at the park.
Mimi Beams, 63, served as race director for the first 10 years. "In other races, they always assume that men were faster, so they’d go in the front. We wanted to create a race for women only," she said. "Women today are so athletic. Fitness has come a long way."
The first race attracted only a couple of hundred participants. Last year’s race had 2,111 entrants.
"We set the standards. Each women received a nice finisher shirt and a rose at the end of the race," said Beams, a Honolulu resident who has run the event more than 30 times. "People don’t realize the contribution that Hawaii Pacific Health has made to keep this run alive. It’s expensive to put on these runs."
Besides the devoted runners, another consistent factor in the race is the support received from men, who not only cheer from the sidelines but serve as race marshals and work at the aid station. "Most men love the opportunity to demonstrate their support and to empower women. My husband is such a cheerleader," Beams said.
Ann Arnone has felt this support firsthand. "The kids and husbands are on the sides cheering. It’s so supportive … a confidence builder," she said. "The core group of us are very competitive."
Arnone started training for a marathon just before her 40th birthday. After being teased about being "over the hill," she decided to prove the naysayers wrong. Arnone ran the first 10K women’s race to help prepare for the longer distance.
"Now, I plan everything around the race. I’m not going to miss it. This is a great gift that I gave myself," she said. "There weren’t a lot of women runners back in 1978. People are normally huddled up for the marathon quietly stretching. There’s nothing like running with just women. At the race, there’s lots of chit-chat. Women are talkers.
"I have such good memories. I ran it with my daughter and my granddaughter — three generations of us together."
This marks the first year that Arnone will be forced to walk the race, since she recently had knee surgery. She continues to work as a registered nurse at the Family Birth Center at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.
For Mollie Chang, running is a part of everyday life. The retired high school teacher has completed 35 marathons and hiked in far-off places such as Papua New Guinea, the Andes and Kenya.
"I jog whenever I can and try to be active. It’s important to keep moving," she said. "I’ve been lucky that I’ve had no major injuries from marathons. I know when to cut back and when to increase my mileage. I’m sensible about training."
Exercise is what Chang says keeps her young at the age of 78. She teaches an exercise class for seniors at the Ala Wai ballroom and regularly works out at the YMCA, where she uses the stationary bikes and attends Zumba classes. When she travels, she runs and carries resistance bands in her luggage.
Chang and Arnone are also members of Faerber’s Flyers, an elite runners’ group.
Retired nurse Judy Carlson has finished 35 consecutive marathons. "After the first one, I couldn’t believe I could do it. I wasn’t much of an athlete before that," she said. "The women’s 10K and triathlons throughout the year helped me keep my goals and kept me moving. It became a lifestyle. The weather here is so conducive to being outside."
Carlson and her husband, both Honolulu residents, regularly participate in marathon training sessions. "Age doesn’t matter when you are in a running group. There’s no stigma attached. I’ve been running long before some of them were born," she said.
Carlson also runs with her three daughters and her 14-year-old granddaughter.
The nine ladies who have participated in all 33 of the women’s 10K races don’t train together, and they don’t really see each other outside of race day, according to Carlson.
"Everyone’s just hoping to finish. It’s for all ages and abilities from the serious runner to the casual stroller."