Patti Dillon, who was at a Legends of Running autograph session last week, dominated the Honolulu Marathon.

Legendary Lessons

Patti Dillon has gone from dominating races
to learning about life the hard way

By Cindy Luis

Life is not about jogging.

It's about running hard and, when the pain hits, running harder.

It's about pushing through the tough times by thinking that tomorrow will be better. It's like running a marathon ... the next mile puts you 1 mile closer to the finish.

Honolulu Marathon Patti Dillon will never be accused of jogging through life. She has run her own race, overcoming bulimia and even homelessness to become a 49-year-old home-schooling mom in New London, Conn.

Her life's journey has once again brought her back to a place she loved and a race she dominated. Then known as Patti Lyons-Catalano, Dillon won four consecutive Honolulu marathons from 1978 to '81, setting a course record each time, the last at 2 hours, 33 minutes and 24 seconds.

Thursday, she was inducted into the Honolulu Marathon's Hall of Fame, a ceremony delayed a year by the death of her father-in-law. Today, she'll do radio commentary for the 30th annual run, 20 years after her last victory and visit to Hawaii.

"It's so awesome and I'm so thankful to be inducted," Dillon said. "I'm tickled. It is so cool!

"My kids don't know a heck of a lot about what we've done. My husband was on the world cross country team. We don't really talk about the races so much as the stories behind the races, what people have gone through, the courage they've shown."

Husband Danny Dillon is here. So are the couple's two children, son Aaron, 9, and daughter Raven, 6.

When they go home next week, there will be plenty of stories to tell and retell. And they will give up counting the times they heard, "Patti was the best."

At a time when the women's movement and women's athletics matched strides in the late 1970s and early '80s, Dillon was among the elite of the elite. She held the U.S. women's record at every distance from 5 miles to the marathon, and world records at 30K and the half-marathon.

Last March, she was inducted into the Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame. She's been approached to do a movie -- the overweight, chain-smoking working girl from Quincy, Mass., who ran out of a dead end and onto a world-class road.

Patti Dillon won four Honolulu Marathons in a row, from 1978 to 1981.

Dillon is comfortable with revisiting her past. It reminds her of how far she's come, from living in her walnut brown 1983 Saab Turbo on the streets of Boston to her idyllic life with a husband, two kids and a menagerie of animals on an estuary not from the old whaling port of Mystic, Conn.

"I can tell you I was in great shape, living in my car," she said of her experience in 1988. "It was a blessing to be homeless. It gave me time to think and I did a tremendous amount of praying.

"I had a friend in the restaurant business and I ate healthy. Since I had trained with a lot of runners in the area, I knew my way around the colleges ... B.C., Harvard, Northeastern ... and I was always able to get a shower. I was probably the healthiest, cleanest homeless person there was.

"I didn't realize my desperateness until I moved into an apartment and you think about what you had done. I did it to leave a bad marriage. It was totally through circumstance that I was in my car. But what I learned was how to pare down, that you have to lose in order to gain. I'm thankful for the experience. It straightened out my priorities."

Dillon had a series of failed marriages, including one to her first coach, Joe Catalano. All she really wanted was to be happily married and have children, something she has found on her fourth try with Danny Dillon.

"Where we live is so beautiful, I'm a home-schooling mom and I look like it," she said. "We started a running club called the Connecticut Home-School Harriers and we found out, by searching on the Internet, that we are the only home-school running club in the world.

"We have 40 kids, ages 5-15, and a two-mile loop near the beach. It's very different than Hawaii. I had forgotten that the Pacific Ocean is saltier, the tide so much stronger and the water so clear and turquoise. I've missed it."

There have been disappointments in the past two decades, including finishing second three times in the Boston Marathon and not making the first U.S. women's marathon team for the 1984 Olympics. Dillon hasn't run the 26.2-mile distance since setting a course record in 1986 in Rio de Janeiro.

Tuesday, she and Danny ran part of tomorrow's course.

"We got to Diamond Head and he said, 'This is hilly,' " Dillon said. "I never thought of the course as hilly. I just remember that I wanted to race the sun, thinking that if I did the (Hawaii Kai) loop before the sun came up, that I'd have the sun at my back on the way back.

"What I remember about Honolulu (Marathon) are the people. It was the first race where I felt not only liked, but loved. The memories I will always have are of the people, especially of all those out to cheer you so early in the morning. It's beautiful."

Dillon recalled the first Boston Marathon she attended as a spectator. She said she had blisters on her wrists from clapping and no voice left from cheering.

"Wow, to see those people bare their souls, to see their inner strength and know what they've overcome to finish," she said. "It's what I tell my kids. Even if you're having a bad day, you got to do what Joanie (Benoit), Billy (Rodgers) and Grete (Waitz) did when they were having a bad race. They stuck with it. They had the courage to hang in there."

And so has Dillon. The road still calls, but the answers are easier to hear, the pace a little slower, the joy of running renewed.

Honolulu Marathon

E-mail to Sports Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --