Women's Movement

Women receive a rose at the end of the race.

Photos courtesy of Hawaii Pacific Health Women's 10k

Claire Tong was always being told “no.” No, she wasn’t allowed to play softball. No, she couldn’t do what her older brother was doing. No, that’s not for girls. So when she finally heard “yes,” it was in her sophomore year at Moanalua High School and the Education Amendments of 1972 — widely known as Title IX — had just passed.

“I don’t think millennials realize the struggles that the older generation of women fought to participate in sports,” says Tong, marketing and communications manager for Hawai‘i Pacific Health. “I was reading an article about the marathon from our archives and it said that there were men who would try to push women off the course, telling them that ‘women’s bodies aren’t made for running.’”

Fortunately, attitudes and perceptions have since improved as more female athletes have made great strides in the world of sports, thanks in large part to Title IX, which was later renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, after the Congresswomen’s death in 2002. That same year, the Hawai‘i Pacific Health Women’s 10K celebrated its milestone 25th anniversary, honoring Mink who was one of the principal authors of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Now in its 40th year, the Hawai‘i Pacific Health Women’s 10K was the first-sanctioned, all-female race when it began and today it draws women of all ages and abilities. A 17-time marathon participant and Na Wahine Triathalon competitor, Tong organizes this “fun run” and also competes in it. 

“You get elite runners, walkers, strollers and generations of families participating in this all-female race,” Tong says. “Everyone gets a medal, a female-fitting finisher’s shirt, a matching bag and a rose.”

Everyone receives a medal at the Hawai‘i Pacific Health Women’s 10K.

At the end of this year’s race, longtime Kaimuki resident Gerry DeBenedetti will have earned all 40 T-shirts, an assertion that she says “no one else in the universe can claim.” DeBenedetti’s connection dates back to the maiden race in 1978 when her then-seventh-grade daughter, Cassie, came home and told her that they had to participate in a race that was just for women.

“I didn’t even know what a 10K was, having not grown up in a metric-system world,” DeBenedetti quips. “I never viewed running as something anyone would do for any reason at all. When I grew up, running was punishment for something you did wrong at school.”

After collecting her 20th or 22nd T-shirt, DeBenedetti recalls returning home from the race and lying on the couch to take a nap. But when she pulled a “scratchy” afghan over her, she began to itch. “And then I had an epiphany,” says the part-time trainer at Curves. “I should make a quilt of all my T-shirts.”

She now has what she calls her three “decade quilts” (1977-1987, 1988-1997, 1998-2007) and soon to be fourth. “I’m not the fastest runner but that’s OK,” DeBenedetti says. “Some years are better than others. But I’m going to keep going.” 

The scenic, 6.2-mile race takes participants around Diamond Head and through Kahala, returning to Kapiolani Park for the after-race festivities. The event will also include prize giveaways, wellness information and a costume contest.

“We’re creating a healthier Hawai‘i,” Tong says, citing the Hawai‘i Pacific Health motto. “For a while here, women were too busy taking care of their family and not themselves. Like in an airplane, you’ve got to put the mask on yourself first and breath the oxygen before helping others.”

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