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Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

Dottie Benson celebrated her 70th birthday on Wednesday with 4,600 people.

OK, so all but a handful of them thought they were running or walking in the Butte to Butte 10K, Eugene's annual Fourth of July race. Benson and her bevy of supporters knew better.

A retired third-grade teacher with sparkling eyes and a lively laugh, Benson is new to the Butte to Butte. But, after welcoming her daughter-in-law Renee Benson across the finish line last year, she got caught up in the excitement.

`I said, `Next year, I'm doing that,' ' she said.

Dottie Benson has been physically active since suffering a severe heart attack 11 years ago, including being a devoted attendee at a water fitness class at Court Sports.

When she announced at the class that she was going to start training for the Butte to Butte, her instructor, Kay Blodgett, was inspired to join her. So was her good friend and fellow teacher Bev Hawks. And so was her good friend and Bible study partner Teri Bolton.

That's the thing about Benson, said Hawks, who was also trying the Butte to Butte for the first time. She has this way of encouraging people.

"That's encourage with a capital E," Hawks said.

The women didn't run. They were part of the crowd enjoying the Mayor's Fitness Walk, a 4.5-mile loop that avoids the notorious hill the runners negotiate.

They were among walkers of every age and fitness level, folks such as Al Rogers, who at age 82 kept a steady pace. Rogers has participated in the Butte to Butte every year since its inception. He ran the 10K until a heart attack in 1985 slowed him down some, he said.

Among the youngest walkers was Camila Hess-Neustadt, a 5-year-old from Flagstaff, Ariz., who was in town for her uncle's wedding. She walked hand in hand with her mother and grandmother.

Benson said she doesn't mind sharing her birthday with the nation. As a child, she thought all those fireworks were especially for her.

And although she acknowledged that she's never been taken out to eat on her birthday - who dines out on the Fourth of July? - she doesn't mind the picnics that are almost always big family affairs.

Wednesday morning, midway through the race, Benson pronounced it her best birthday ever.

"As I get older, I appreciate everything more. I realize today is a gift and I feel good," she said.

Benson walked at an even clip with enough energy to do a few dance moves as she passed the KFLY-FM radio truck blaring AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long." And she had more than enough to dash over and hug her former principal Fred Merten, who was standing on the sidelines encouraging race participants with a clanging cowbell.

Wowed by the sea of people, she couldn't think of the right superlatives as she crossed the finish line.

"Well, Bev," she said as she hugged her friend, "we did it. And I think we'll do it again next year."
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Title Annotation:Holidays; A heart attack survivor celebrates her 70th with a walk in the annual event
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 5, 2007
Previous Article:Port possibilities afloat.
Next Article:Springfield boy dies in Fourth of July fire.

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