September 21, 2016

Runner Profile: Sabina Havkins Balancing Endurance

By Kris Parfitt


When you’re playing tennis, attempting long-distance runs, or helping kids recover from chronic disease—all of which require endurance—you learn a lot about balance.

Since she was a young girl growing up in Queens, New York, Sabina Havkins, who now lives in Seattle, has been humbly balancing potential with achievement for the past 61 years. This is well demonstrated in her life now as she easily balances being a marathon distance road and ultra-trail runner, a Charity Athlete for the Humane Society, and a beloved physical therapist at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Title IX—the 1972 law requiring gender equality for boys and girls in educational programs that receive federal funding—was influential for Havkins, and young American girls growing up in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Throughout the decades before the 1970s, women were not encouraged to compete in athletics and it was rare for women to run long distances.

Wired for Endurance

“My mom was a physical education teacher in the Bronx (in New York) during the ’40s and ’50s, so I liked sports and competing,” said Havkins. After Title IX, competing in track and field was a new option when Havkins, an accomplished tennis player and instructor, was a student at Arizona State in the mid-’70s. She discovered that she was wired for endurance in college when competing in her first long-distance race.

It was 1977 and only four women were registered in the first marathon Havkins ran. It was the Summit County Marathon, in Keystone, Colorado, and she ended up running most of the race with one of the women. There were great prizes for the first through third-place finishers so Havkins and the other woman decided to tie for third so they would each win a pair of New Balance running shoes.

Three years later Havkins made her first attempt to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Havkins and her dog, Rosa, warm up in the morning sun at the Fort Ebey Kettles Run on Whidbey Island, Washington. Photo courtesy of Sabina Havkins

“I had to run a marathon race in no more than three hours and 20 minutes (to qualify for Boston),” Havkins recalls. “So I ran in the Avenue of the Giants qualifier marathon in Northern California in 1980 and missed the time by 20 seconds!” She blames it on the bathroom stop she made earlier in the race.

She didn’t attempt to quality for the Boston Marathon again until four years later.

After volunteering at the first-aid station in Olympia, Washington during the first Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 1984, Havkins committed to qualifying for Boston that year.

“Joan Benoit (Samuelson) had just won the gold medal as the first woman marathon runner in the Olympics. I was so inspired by her that I targeted the Capital City Marathon in Olympia that July and qualified for the Boston Marathon with a 3:18 time.”

Since then Havkins has participated in over 30 running races ranging from marathon distances to 50-mile trail runs or longer. She has competed in the Boston Marathon twice, once in her forties and again in her fifties.

Although she qualified in 2015 for the 2016 Boston Marathon, Havkins didn’t compete.

“The Boston event was April 18, the same date as the American River 50 in Folsom, California,” says Havkins, who chose the trail run in California instead. “I figure since I have run the Boston in each decade since my forties I have nine more years to qualify again and still run it in my sixties.”

Running is a community experience for Havkins and this philosophy is what inspires her to also be a celebrity athlete for the Humane Society.

“I enjoy the challenge of being a fundraiser for the Humane Society,” says Havkins. “It’s not at all about me, it’s about how I can help others.”

A long time dog-lover and owner, Havkins has been a huge supporter of the Seattle Humane Society and one of its top fundraisers.

The same desire to help others shows in Havkins’ work as a physical therapist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. She works collaboratively with doctors, nurses and occupational therapists to treat children with cancer, chronic pain, orthopedic conditions and sports injuries.

“I’m so inspired by kids,” Havkins says. “Even in the face of their challenges they balance being playful with a willingness to try new things.”

Havkins has treated hundreds of children since she started at Children’s in 1993, and is thankful for what she continues to receive from the experience.

“I am grateful for the opportunity I have to help and motivate others to be healthy and achieve their goals, whether those goals are physical or otherwise,” she says. “I truly believe that exercise can help almost anyone gain a certain balance of happiness and confidence so they can discover their true selves.”

When Kris Parfitt isn’t busy being the managing editor of OutdoorsNW magazine, she’s traveling the Northwest finding fascinating people to interview and write about.