Keeping in stride for a cause
By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Gordon
It doesn't matter what the distance is, runners of all abilities reach a moment where pain and fatigue threaten to overwhelm them.
But whenever the going gets tough for marathoner Christopher "Kit" Smith, he does what many fathers might consider unthinkable: He calls upon the memory of the daughter who died of cancer when she was only 18.
"She is my inspiration and companion along the way," Smith said. "In most of the marathons I've done over the years, I have worn a bracelet that says 'In Memory of Patty.' Toward the end of a race when I am getting tired, I touch the bracelet and I remember why I am doing this, as a tribute to her, and I draw some energy from that."
This month, Smith's daughter will inspire more than just her father when the starter's gun sends a wave of runners through Ala Moana Beach Park and Magic Island for a race held in her honor — the sixth annual Mango Days 5K. All proceeds from the run benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
The race is named for a book made of Patty's writing, including high school journal entries before and after her diagnosis.
Patty was the kind of bright flame that burns out too fast: She was a freshman at Stanford University, an accomplished writer and a dedicated runner when she died in June 1981.
Although she was not interested in sports as a youth, she fell in love with running while in high school at Punahou. She completed the Honolulu Marathon during her senior year, ignoring a throbbing toe that she later discovered had bloodied a sock.
"She wasn't a really terribly good runner, so it was difficult for her to run," her father said. "But boy, she loved to run, and she was determined."
A few months after the marathon, Patty and her family learned that she had also run the race with two tumors. She was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma that was considered curable, but as she began her first year at Stanford, the pain that had developed in her bones grew worse. Her cancer treatments were not working.
And during an otherwise good school year, one filled with new friendships, challenging studies and the occasional run, her new treatments failed as well. The Smiths brought their daughter home for the last weeks of her life.
That same fall, a 5-mile race was held to honor Patty and raise money for cancer research. The race was held every year through 1993, and her father ran all of them. Often, he spoke to runners and friends about his gutsy daughter, the one who never felt sorry for herself and loved to run even as her body gave out.
Kit Smith, a former Advertiser business editor who is 73 and lives in Hawai'i Kai, began running in his early 40s.
"I did it for fitness," he said. "Both my grandfathers died of heart attacks before I was born, so I have been mindful of having a heart attack. Running is a way of building up your fitness and fortifying your cardiovascular system."
Smith has run 40 marathons, including a personal best of 3:37 when he was 50 and a similar time five years ago when he won his age group in the San Diego Marathon.
Running has been good for Smith. "My blood pressure is OK," he said. "I don't need to take blood pressure medication, and a lot of folks my age do. I don't take any medications, actually. I think running has a lot to do with my good health."
The Mango Days run draws its name from a journal Patty kept after she learned she had lymphoma. Through entries about her struggle, recollections about family and friends, poetry and humorous cartoons, Patty told her story. It was published in 1992.
The book is a source of pride for her father. He discovered that Patty's heartfelt writing had the power to move other runners unfamiliar with lymphoma.
Smith volunteers with Team In Training, which helps athletes train for long-distance events in exchange for fundraising that benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He's been a mentor to runners for nearly 10 years and has given each runner a copy of the book.
One of them was Neil Voje, who was so inspired, he created the Mango Days 5K. The race annually attracts about 300 runners, walkers and parents pushing strollers. Smith has run them all, of course.
In previous races to honor Patty, as far back to 1981, when members of the Punahou band gave a concert and then ran, participants have called the event a celebration.
Patty's father said that reminds him of something a family friend once said about the girl.
"She said she would have given anything to have had Patty for 18 years," he said. "I think, gosh, that's true. Could we imagine not having had her at all?"
Reach Mike Gordon at email@example.com.