‘STAND­ING ON THE FRONT LINES’

The Garden Island - - Morning Briefing -

Slowly, one hand and one foot after an­other, Con­nor Maro­vish used the rope to pull him­self up the steep climb that was part of the Ul­ti­mate Hawai­ian Trail Run Satur­day morn­ing.

When he reached the top, the 11-year-old paused briefly on the muddy path.

“It’s hard and tir­ing but I’m go­ing to make it,” he said as he moved away.

Such was the sen­ti­ment of many of the es­ti­mated 1,000 who par­tic­i­pated in the fourth an­nual event on lush, green pri­vate lands of the Knud­sen Trust.

From ex­cited keiki to weary kupuna, they ran, walked, crawled, climbed and slid on their butts through 10K and 5K cour­ses. Some brief but strong down­pours turned sec­tions of Kahili Moun­tain into slip­pery slopes on a cool and cloudy morn­ing.

But no one was com­plain­ing. In­stead, all were hav­ing a good time, get­ting dirty, fall­ing down at times, get­ting up, en­joy­ing spec­tac­u­lar scenery and help­ing each other com­plete the jour­ney.

There was plenty of sweat and laugh­ter, too, from the crowd of lo­cals and vis­i­tors, with run­ners from Aus­tralia, Colorado and Alabama.

Greg Batalucco of Koloa en­cour­aged his son Chase, 6, as they walked and ran in the early miles. It was their first time at the Ul­ti­mate Hawai­ian Trail Run and both were feel­ing good.

“We just wanted to help out,” said Greg Batalucco, who had an older son run­ning ahead of him. “It’s good for the kids.”

The run was a fundraiser for a youth sports pro­gram led by Aaron Hoff, also the founder of this race that has al­ready be­come pop­u­lar on Kauai and re­ceived strong sup­port.

Hoff leads a team of Cross­Fit coaches at the South­side Sports Cen­ter in Koloa to teach keiki about health, fit­ness and nu­tri­tion.

The year-round pro­gram sees about 50 keiki daily as they ex­er­cise, talk story and hang out with men­tors.

The idea is to give them a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion and cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for ac­tiv­i­ties that keep them away from drugs and al­co­hol.

Hoff, raised on Kauai, said he bat­tled sub­stance abuse in his youth and fought off sui­ci­dal thoughts. He over­came through faith and a re­newed fo­cus on phys­i­cal and men­tal fit­ness.

The trail run is his way of rais­ing aware­ness and find­ing an­swers.

“You need to un­der­stand that what you guys are do­ing right now, you’re stand­ing on the front lines of one of the worst epi­demics on the is­land,” Hoff said to the crowd be­fore the races started. “It’s a drug and al­co­hol prob­lem I’ve wit­nessed over the past 20 years kill so many kids and hurt so many fam­i­lies.”

“This run was built on suf­fer­ing I’ve wit­nessed over the years,” he added. “We’re all com­ing to­gether as a so­lu­tion — you guys are be­com­ing part of a so­lu­tion that works.”

Wy­ley Schim­melfen­nig, a vol­un­teer on the course, said Hoff has made a big dif­fer­ence in his life.

“I’m here be­cause I’ve dealt with ad­dic­tion my whole life. I didn’t have pro­grams like this when I grew up,” he said. “I went down the wrong path, started from a young age do­ing drugs, drink­ing a lot, steal­ing, went to jail. Through the help of Aaron Hoff, what he’s done, he’s turned my life around. He showed me a bet­ter way of liv­ing. He showed me that so­bri­ety can be fun by do­ing fit­ness.”

Schim­melfen­nig said be­ing at the sports cen­ter gives youth op­tions “to hope­fully not go down the same paths we have.”

Many youth showed up Satur­day.

Sis­ters Kylia and Ki­yara Bell-Kamou of Ka­pahi stuck to­gether, hold­ing hands at times, as they ran, walked for short stretches to re­cover, than ran again.

Ki­yara, smil­ing, was hav­ing fun de­spite not feel­ing 100 per­cent.

“Our mom is into fit­ness and she wanted us to do this,” Kylia said. So what did they think? “It’s pretty fun,” Kylia said.

Some keiki charged along alone, fu­eled by vol­un­teers, fel­low par­tic­i­pants and their own en­thu­si­asm.

A muddy Jay­den Mon­geo, 10, of Kala­heo said climb­ing the steep stretches, us­ing ropes, was the hard­est part. But he was proud to push through.

“I’m glad to be here, I’m glad I’m do­ing it,” he said.

Ty Clark, 11, crested a high point on the moun­tain course just as rain re­sumed. The son of Nic Clark, win­ner of the 10K, didn’t mind at all. “I’m lov­ing it,” he said. Joseph Pasa­dava, 16, was equally happy as he walked/ jogged his way to­ward the fi­nal gaunt­let that re­quired ev­ery­one to nav­i­gate over a maze of ob­sta­cles that in­cluded boul­ders, tires and board walls, jump over ditches, crawl un­der net­ting and run through a mud­pit.

“It’s awe­some to be out here. It’s a bless­ing, too,” he said. The best part? “When I fin­ish,” he said. Juan Car­los, a keiki coach at the sports cen­ter, was of­fer­ing high fives, cheers and smiles as people made the push to­ward the end.

“It’s amaz­ing, the fact that all th­ese people come out to sup­port our pro­gram is just in­cred­i­ble,” he said. “Es­pe­cially for me be­ing a coach for the kids, I get to see their faces and help them through ad­ver­sity and teach them things. It blows me away to have this much sup­port from all over the world.”

ABOVE: Run­ners are all smiles early in the race. BE­LOW: Greg Batalucco of Koloa runs with son Chase, 6.

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