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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 5, 2002

First-time marathoner won inaugural race at 14

By Casey McGuire-Turcotte
Special to The Advertiser

Learn about Hawai'i sports history and those who figured prominently in it in this feature. We'll ask a question Wednesday and present the answer in an in-depth profile on Thursday

Q: Competing in her first marathon, this Roosevelt High School athlete was just 14 when she won the inaugural Honolulu Marathon in 1973. Who is she?

A: J.D. Beltran, 43, (formerly known as June Chun) was the women's winner of the inaugural Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 16, 1973.

Running in her first marathon, J.D. Beltran, then 14-year-old June Chun, won the inaugural Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 16, 1973.

J.D. Beltran, right, was known as June Chun when she won the Honolulu Marathon in 1973. "I remember thinking, 'this is my race' " Beltran recalled.

Advertiser library photo

She finished the 26.2-mile race in 3 hours, 25 minutes, 31 seconds, averaging 7:52 per mile over the 26.2-mile course. It was only 40 seconds off the U.S. age group record at the time held by Doreen Assumma.

Now 43 and a conceptual artist living in San Francisco with her fiance, the once elite marathoner runs recreationally three or four time a week.

She remembers her first marathon as "absolutely amazing," and not just because she won.

"After the first few miles, I remember thinking 'this is my race,' " she said. "I had great rhythm, I wasn't in pain. ... I felt incredible. I was completely at peace."

Even though it was nice to win, she hadn't expected it.

"I knew I could finish the distance, but I didn't know I'd be so good at it," said Beltran, who will be recognized at Sunday's race ceremony.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Honolulu Marathon, The Advertiser will feature some faces of past marathons in the coming days. The coverage will culminate with comprehensive coverage of the event. Here's the lineup:

Tuesday—These three runners represent the "Final Few," the only runners to have competed in all previous 29 Honolulu Marathons.

Yesterday—The first male winner became an Olympian and is now a coach.

• Today—The first female winner was just 14 at the time.

• Tomorrow—The top male and female contenders.

• Saturday—The 30th marathon is approaching 30,000 entries.

Beltran started running at age 10, when her stepfather, the late Dr. Hing Hua "Hunky" Chun, decided their family of eight should start exercising.

With Connie Beltran's three daughters, and Hunky Chun's three sons, the large group was amusingly dubbed "The Hunky Bunch" (like the Brady Bunch.) They frequented many local road races and age group track meets together.

"It was a great family activity," Beltran said. "We all loved it."

Beltran's victory at the first Honolulu Marathon was the beginning of a series of remarkable running accomplishments for the teenager.

A few months later, she finished fifth in the women's race at the Boston Marathon. Because she wasn't 18, she was considered an unofficial entrant and was not recognized in the awards.

At 17, Beltran set an age group world record in the marathon with a time of 2 hours, 56 minutes, 57 seconds at the Honolulu Marathon, and was ranked 17th in the nation for women marathoners.

Besides her marathon success, Beltran also ran track and cross country while at Roosevelt High School. She won the state cross country championship as a senior.

In the spring of 1977, she graduated valedictorian of her class and accepted a scholarship to run cross country at the University of Hawai'i.

Beltran's running future appeared just as bright as her past after her first collegiate season. She qualified for the NCAA cross country meet that fall, but she decided not to compete because she thought the 5,000-meter race didn't suit her marathon style.

"I wouldn't have done very well at nationals, and I didn't want to waste the university's money," she was quoted as saying back then.

After one year at UH, Beltran decided to transfer to the University of Oregon, a national powerhouse program at the time, to further her development as an elite runner.

She trained with the track and cross-country teams, specifically for the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. But the wear and tear from running so many miles in her young life was catching up with her, and she never represented Oregon in a collegiate race because of injuries.

Still, she remained a force on the national marathon scene. She was sponsored by Brooks and Nike, and competed in the Women's International Marathon as part of the U.S. team.

As a 19-year-old sophomore at Oregon, Beltran ran the Nike (Eugene), Honolulu, Atlanta, and New York marathons during a 12-month period. It was at that point that her body had had enough.

As difficult as it was, she stopped running competitively.

"I was really disappointed. I had wanted to keep improving and make it to the Olympics or at least the trials," she said. "But I guess my body was telling me something."

She spent the next two years focusing on school, and graduated from Oregon in 1982.

Beltran had always loved painting and drawing, and considered a career in art right out of college.

"Art had been a passion of mine since kindergarten," she said. "But I knew I had to get a responsible job, and art just didn't seem like a real job at the time."

She applied to law school, and in 1986, graduated from the UC Berkeley school of law. She spent the next 10 years as a successful trial and litigation attorney in the Bay Area.

Although she enjoyed her work, she knew it wasn't her calling.

"I wasn't giving it 100 percent," she said. "I knew there was something else I wanted to do."

In 1998, the small firm she was working for merged with a large corporation, and Beltran decided to leave her job to study art full-time at the San Francisco Art Institute.

She says it was the easiest decision of her life.

"I felt the way I felt during that first marathon when I started doing art full-time," she said. "I felt so at peace, and it felt so right."

Beltran started as a painter, but now works with conceptual art. Her focus is on multi-media portraitures.

Today, there are galleries of her work in San Francisco and Kansas City.

Beltran says she feels blessed to have had all the experiences she has.

"I think of my career in life in thirds," she said. "From 10-20, it was running. From 24-34, it was law. And now, it's art. I'm just so happy to be where I am now."