Obituary: UC Davis scientist Chris Iwahashi, 58, was elite runner

07/22/2014 5:41 PM

07/22/2014 5:42 PM

Chris Iwahashi, a University of California, Davis, scientist and elite Northern California runner who participated in more than 160 official marathons and inspired many back-of-the-pack participants across the finish line, died July 16 at 58.

The cause was breast cancer, which had been in remission since she was diagnosed with the disease more than 20 years ago, said her domestic partner, George Parrott.

Ms. Iwahashi was widely known and admired in the running community for her remarkable record as a competitive runner and for her generous contributions to others as a coach and friend. In 2013, she received a lifetime achievement award and was one of eight members inducted into the inaugural class of the Sacramento Running Association Hall of Fame.

She was a fitness jogger in 1979 when one of her brothers challenged her to enter the Paul Masson Marathon in Cupertino, which she completed in 4:10. For the next 27 years, her petite but powerful frame was a blur as she completed more than 60 marathons in less than three hours and set a personal record of 2:45:28 at the 1988 California International Marathon – six weeks after her first surgery for breast cancer.

Besides three wins at the Napa Marathon, she was the first woman to cross the finish line at the Detroit Free Press Marathon, Russian River Marathon, Bidwell Classic Marathon, Modesto Marathon and the Marathon de Medoc in France. She participated 21 times in the CIM and ran with winning teams at the Boston Marathon as a longtime member of the Buffalo Chips Running Club.

In addition, she pushed herself beyond 26.2 miles in the American River 50-miler and completed the 56-mile Comrades ultramarathon in South Africa four times.

“She was just incredible – very tough,” said board member Cynci Calvin of the Sacramento Running Association. “When she put her competitive hat on, she was all business. But … if she came across somebody on the course who was struggling, she always had it in her to offer encouragement.”

For many runners, Ms. Iwahashi was a role model as a gracious athlete and dedicated mentor. Besides volunteering at races, she served as the first coach for the Leukemia Society Team in Training program in Sacramento. An avid supporter of women in the sport, she directed clinics for women participating in their first 5K events and led training programs for the Susan B. Anthony Women’s 5K and the Avon women’s running series.

She sacrificed her own training to help new runners develop proper form, breathing and running techniques. After crossing a finish line well ahead of the pack, she immediately returned to the course to encourage friends, said Cheri Alvarez of the Buffalo Chips Running Club.

“Here she was this extremely talented runner, and yet she was more concerned with helping beginners,” Alvarez said. “She was really concentrating on making sure people had fun and wanted to run and wanted to come back.”

Ms. Iwahashi was a biochemist for more than 30 years at UC Davis, most recently as director of the Hagerman Laboratory. Her research included work by the UC Davis MIND Institute into developmental and neurological issues linked to the fragile X gene. She published more than 30 research papers and presented at scientific conferences around the world.

Born Oct. 15, 1955, Christine Keiko Iwahashi earned a biochemistry degree from UC Davis in 1976. She spent three years as a researcher at the Stanford University medical school before joining the staff at UC Davis.

She lived most recently in West Sacramento with Parrott, a retired psychology professor at California State University, Sacramento, whom she met at a Buffalo Chips run. Together since 1985, they traveled to more than 35 countries for races, for scientific meetings related to her work and for his work as a Fulbright Scholar in Poland. A gourmet cook, she hosted many international researchers and runners at their home.

“On Thanksgiving, she would have dinner for … runners and other people who were here without family or anybody,” Alvarez said. “She was always looking out for other people.”

Ms. Iwahashi’s previous marriage to Ed Hosada ended in divorce. In addition to Parrott, she is survived by her father, Donald; two brothers, David and Kenneth; and a sister, Pauline Nagata.

A celebration of her life is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Sacramento State Alumni Center. Memorial donations may be made to the Paul Hagerman Lab at UC Davis MIND Institute. Make checks payable to UC Regents; write “UC Davis MIND Institute, Paul Hagerman Lab, in memory of Chris Iwahashi” in the memo line; and mail to UC Davis Health Sciences Development, 4900 Broadway, Suite 1150, Sacramento, CA 95820.

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