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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 27, 2010

Running the talk

BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Connie Comiso-Fanelli and her son, Gary Fanelli Jr., run up Tantalus, her "favorite run of all time."

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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When it comes to health and fitness, Connie Comiso-Fanelli won't accept the notion that you can be too busy for a workout. Jobs, children and chores get her worst rebuttal.

"It sounds like a lot of excuses," she said.

But the 54-year-old Comiso-Fanelli can offer her own life as a compelling example of what's possible: She's a nurse, teacher and running coach, a single mother raising a teenage son and a competitor who still wins her age group at local road races.

"We're all busy with time constraints so am I," she said. "But it is important for your health and sanity to make time for yourself. If I don't take care of myself, I can't be a good mother or a good nurse or a good girlfriend. I would be grumpy. I want to be fast and happy."

It goes beyond self, though.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle allows parents to be a good role model for their children, Comiso-Fanelli said. She often encourages the parents of her Punahou School cross country team and her Pac 5 track team to take a walk or run while waiting for practice to finish.

"You can't be a good role model if you are not walking your talk, in this case, running," she said.

Comiso-Fanelli started running in 1978, when she was a student at the University of Hawai'i. It was a radical change. She had been a smoker since high school, where she sang and danced, and her diet was full of fatty foods and beer. At one point, the 5-foot-4 Comiso-Fanelli weighed about 140 pounds.

Disgusted with herself, she started running. Three months later, Comiso-Fanelli completed the Hilo Marathon in a time many veteran runners would envy 3:47.

From there, her competitive instincts took over and Comiso-Fanelli continued running marathons. She's finished more than 100 marathons during her running career and has also won the grueling 36.2-mile race to the summit of Haleakalā several times.

And she brought her weight down to 105 pounds.

"I'm competitive by nature," she said. "Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to be the best in what I did. I graduated as outstanding student of the year at Kailua High School. I didn't know I was getting the award because I was in the library."

Even after 32 years, running still dominates her life.

Comiso-Fanelli, who lives in Mānoa with her 14-year-old son, Gary Fanelli Jr., a promising middle-distance runner at Damien Memorial School, typically runs 40 to 45 miles a week. That includes the short run from wherever she can find parking at Punchbowl to The Queen's Medical Center.

On weekends, she races regularly as a member of Faerber's Flyers, a women's running club she helped found in 1980. She typically runs three marathons a year and plans to compete next month in the Kona Marathon.

But running offers more than physical health for Comiso-Fanelli.

"I think exercise is not only good for your body but also for your soul," she said. "My favorite run of all time is still Tantalus. The roads and the trail it is very serene. It is my time with God, my time to reflect."