FITNESS PROFILE | STEPHANIE MEW
'Penguins' march toward marathon
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
The Honolulu Marathon Clinic has served its share of colorful characters over the last 30-plus years, but perhaps none so distinctive as Stephanie Mew and the rest of the Orange Hat Penguins.
The group — Mew, sister Sandy McRoberts, high school pal Theresa Kong Kee, and friends Faith Geronimo and Iris Asao — initially dubbed themselves the Penguins in recognition of John Bingham, a back-of-the-pack runner who writes "The Penguin Chronicles" column for Runners World, and the documentary film "March of the Penguins."
"We identified with the penguins in that movie," says Mew. "They would walk for very long distances, or slide on their bellies, anything to get where they were going."
The "orange hat" part was added when fellow runners started noticing the fluorescent orange hats the Penguins all wear during their training runs.
"At first, people thought we were a road crew or a cleaning crew," Mew says, laughing.
For Mew, an elementary school teacher, committing to the marathon clinic was a life-altering decision. Years of sedentary living had taken a toll on her body, and the breaking point came when she turned age 41 — but felt like 80.
Mew recruited the rest of the group to undertake what seemed like a monumental challenge.
"I didn't really know what the marathon was," she says. "No one believed we could do it, but it turned into the biggest party."
Forming a tight bond of mutual support, the group dutifully turned out for the clinic's weekly training run, and carefully followed founder Jack Scaff's proven formula for measured improvement and race-day success.
The first time they ran with the clinic, the Penguins could scarcely make it from one utility pole to the next. They walked and ran two laps around Kapi'olani Park, about three miles, and felt like they had done a full marathon.
"That was the hardest time," Mew said. "But it got easier very quickly."
Following Scaff's schedule, the Penguins complemented their Sunday runs with shorter runs during the week. Week after week their mileage slowly increased, and the energy they felt as their bodies grew leaner and stronger fed a forward momentum that eventually delivered them to the starting line of the 2005 Honolulu Marathon.
"It was the biggest thrill to be part of the event along with all those elite athletes," Mew says. "it was the culmination of nine months of personal commitment."
Penguin boosters set up water stations along the route and waved signs bearing their names. Two of the Penguins hit the legendary "wall" during the race, but the group refused to be separated. Nine hours and 35 minutes after they started, the Penguins crossed the finish line together.
It didn't take long for Mew's inner voice to speak up: "Now what?"
Mew, who dropped four dress sizes during that first marathon training season, says she's sticking to her lifestyle change. She plans on running a few shorter road races this year on her way to another Honolulu Marathon with the Penguins. This year, they're shooting for an eight-hour finish. As she continues to develop as an athlete, Mew says she'll set her sights on completing her first triathlon.
"I feel the difference in my stamina and mood," she says. "It's a great stress relief knowing I can look forward to getting outside and running it off."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.
Correction: The starting date for the Honolulu Marathon Clinic was incorrect in a previous version of this story.