Camas marathon runner earns ‘Six Finisher’ medal

Gary Abrahamsen ran his first marathon at age 58; six years later, he has completed five more, including the Boston Marathon

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Camas resident Gary Abrahamsen holds a medal that he received for finishing the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Gary Abrahamsen)

After moving back to his hometown of Camas in 2000, Gary Abrahamsen decided to get into better physical shape. After watching the television show, “The Biggest Loser,” he turned to his wife and said, ‘The contestants run a marathon at the end of their weight-loss journey. Why can’t I do that?’”

But Abrahamsen soon realized his effort to complete a 26.2-mile run would have to start with something much less ambitious —  a short walk down the street.

“I was 230 pounds or something like that,” he said. “I started by walking one block, then running one block. The next time, I ran the two blocks. Then I ran one mile, then another mile added onto that — just a little further each time. It’s like blowing up a balloon. At first, it’s kind of tough to blow up, but as you blow it up a little bit more, it gets a little bit easier and a little bit easier. The challenge is to blow it up enough but not break it.”

Nearly a quarter of a century later, Abrahamsen’s health journey has led him to places and accomplishments he never could have imagined back in 2000. 

On April 15, after completing the Boston Marathon, Abrahamsen, 64, earned the prestigious “Six Star Finisher” medal given to runners who complete six Abbott World Marathon Majors’ races. 

“It means a lot,” said Abrahamsen, a network engineer for the Camas School District. “It means you’ve spent many years of your life trying to accomplish something that if you looked at it years ago, you would say, ‘That’s too big to accomplish.’ But by just taking it apart, day to day, week to week, month to month, step by step — even though I got turned down for certain races or didn’t get picked for the lottery — all of the things that go into it to try to get there, that’s what I appreciate.”

Introduced by the Abbott World Marathon Majors — a championship-style competition for marathon runners — in 2016, to honor the runners who complete the six major annual marathons in Boston, London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago and New York, the Six Star Finisher medal has been given to around 11,000 runners over the past eight years, including Abrahamsen’s wife, Satomi Sano, who earned her medal in 2023, after finishing the Tokyo Marathon.

“We didn’t even think about doing the Six Star until my wife ran in Boston (in 2018),” Abrahamsen said. “We’re standing around in the cold for my ‘spousal conciliatory’ 5-kilometer run, and we were talking with a lady, and she was talking about the ‘Abbott Wall.’ We were like, ‘What are you talking about? What is this thing?’ I could see the twinkle in my wife’s eye, and I thought, ‘Uh oh, here we go.’ She started to go on this journey, and I (followed) right behind her. She was the start of it. There was almost a palpable feeling of, ‘This is something I have to do.’”

Abrahamsen completed the Berlin and New York marathons in 2021; the London Marathon in 2022; and the Tokyo and Chicago marathons in 2023.

“It’s a combination of being really physically worn out and mentally giddy,” Abrahamsen said of marathon running. “Once you cross that line, you forget about any kind of pain you’ve had or any kind of problems you have. … To be able to set a goal, to be able to do the little steps and sometimes the big steps to get to that goal, and then once you finish that goal, the success you feel lasts a longer time than you would realize. That’s something you can’t take away. You’ll never be able to take away the fact that I finished that race.” 

Abrahamsen has lived in Camas his entire life, with the exception of an eight-year stint in Tokyo, where he and Sano were married. He began running in 2000, and after six months of training participated in his first 5-kilometer run. Several years later, at the age of 58, he ran his first marathon. 

Since then, Abrahamsen has completed five more marathons and numerous shorter races, and has run on behalf of a variety of charities, including Gold Ribbon Network, Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“I don’t feel like I’m 64,” said Abrahamsen, who now weighs 175 pounds. “I look at people the same age, and it’s almost like they’re a slave to their age. They’re like, ‘I’m retired now, I can sit and relax.’ To me, that’s almost the opposite of what I would want to do. Movement is key to life, I think. If I stayed at 235, what would I be like now? I don’t know. I feel pretty good. I don’t have some of the ailments other folks my age might have. I feel pretty good.”

Abrahamsen and Sano almost always run together, three times a week, and cover an average of 14 miles a week, sprinkling in longer runs when they’re training for a race.

“It’s become kind of a health journey as we get older, making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves,” said Abrahamsen, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2017, about 15 years after his wife was diagnosed with cervical cancer. 

“I can’t think of anything (better) when it comes to being married or part of a couple where you really spend a lot of time, just the two of you, doing something you both like to do, having a common subject that you’re spending that much time with. We have that,” he said. “I think one of the reasons we run together is we both have the same accomplishments, so there’s the ability to talk about a race afterward — things we saw, things we did, how we felt, good things, bad things. It’s a bonding experience.”

Abrahamsen and Chicago resident Lisa Le were selected to run the Boston Marathon on behalf of Health Imperatives, a nonprofit with a mission to improve the health and well-being of low-income and vulnerable families and individuals in Massachusetts.

“We are thrilled to have two incredible runners representing Health Imperatives at our first Boston Marathon,” Health Imperatives Chief Executive Officer Julia Kehoe stated in a news release. “We are inspired by Lisa and Gary’s dedication to their sport, and we are humbled by their passion for helping others, serving their communities, and raising awareness about our work.”

The news release stated that “Abrahamsen, who works in school administration and witnessed firsthand the impact of a widening wealth gap in his hometown, was drawn to Health Imperatives’ dedication to serving those who have fallen through the cracks of existing healthcare systems.”

Runners can qualify for marathons in one of several ways, according to Abrahamsen. The most straightforward method is posting a qualifying time in a race held on a certified course. Otherwise, runners can join a charitable organization’s racing team in exchange for a racing bib or hope their names are picked from a lottery. 

“I had five tickets to this year’s Boston Marathon, and none of those were picked,” Abrahamsen said. “I lost out on the lottery, I (wasn’t selected for a team), and it looked like no Boston for me. My wife said, ‘Well, why don’t you join the Boston Charity Facebook organization?’ They sometimes post for organizations that may have lost a runner to injury, or need another runner, or something last-minute.”

A little over one month before the Boston Marathon, Abrhamsen saw a post on the Facebook page and quickly sent his information in for consideration.

Abrahamsen committed to raising at least $7,500 for Health Imperatives in exchange for his racing bib. As of April 18, he had raised $7,403. He carried a list of the names of his donors, sealed in a plastic bag, in his right hand during the race. 

“My progress has been good, surprisingly,” he said. “Because I’ve worked in the school district for so many years, I know a lot of people. You don’t realize how much people know you and will step up, and it’s been very humbling to see the amount of people that have stepped up.”

Abrahamsen said that he “truly believes” in Health Imperatives’ mission.

“We’ve grown from a small town,” Abrahamsen said about Camas. “We’re generally thought of as a fairly well-off school district, but we forget about those who aren’t. We don’t have a lot of (students who qualify for) free and reduced lunch here. We’re pretty low when you compare Vancouver or Evergreen. (Health Imperatives is) in that same kind of boat where they’re helping those who have been sort of left behind economically, or from health care standards. Same thing that’s happened here — we forget about that wage gap. We just think of Camas as being this rich town, and it’s not fair to those who aren’t.”

To donate to Abrahamsen’s fundraising efforts, visit