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Running dynamo Bernie Portenski in hospice, still smiling and cracking jokes

by Kevin Norquay, DominionPost, 18 January 2017

Mr Norquay reports that “Ms Portenski, 67, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May, three days before the Rotorua Marathon, preventing her from running it for a 34th consecutive time.”

An always-smiling, nonstop wise-cracking runner who qualified for the 1992 Olympics, won three Rotorua Marathons, twice completed an Ironman and was 1998 Wellingtonian of the Year, Portenski went into the hospice this month, where she is bedridden, yet upbeat.

“Yes, I am quite busy, I’m kinda busy dying,” she laughs, saying that planning for an undetermined date has its problems.

“You can’t plan anything in Wellington – barbecues, anything like that, dying – if you’ve got to get the right date, it’s not the place to be.

“The weather’s no different for what I’m trying to plan, and people who are trying to plan a barbecue.”

Even while ill, she made life better for her cancer ward colleagues in Wellington Hospital, by doing their hair.

Portenski took up running as a drinking, smoking 30-year-old out to improve her life. And she did just that, setting a string of world age-group records and all but making the Barcelona Olympics.

She ran within the qualifying time, but her dream was dashed by selectors, who thought her too old at 42. Hitting the qualifying mark remains her proudest moment.

“I was really proud of that, but in saying that I was very proud of my three Rotorua Marathon victories … that was a very special race for me. To win it three times was a bonus.”

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