In the last two years of visiting the island of Kauai and winning the Kauai Marathon I felt a connection to the island. In 2011, I stayed in a family’s guest bedroom and felt like I was a member of the family. I could not afford to stay in a hotel so this was the most affordable place I could find off of AirBnB.com. This ended up being a “blessing in disguise” because I was able live like a local for a week. Sadly, I noticed the poverty was prevalent across the island. As a runner, I became immediately aware of the lack of proper shoes. I learned that there was not a running specialty store on the island and many are therefore only able buy their shoes at K-Mart, Walmart, or Costco. This year I wanted to make a positive difference to the island and I thought it would be very beneficial to get the kids on the island in Newton shoes. If you’ve ever browsed the Newton Running Website, you’d find a global responsibility page that highlights a lot of the great work being done across the world through Newton Running. When I proposed the idea to Newton, they liked the idea to donate shoes to the Kauai youths and I went to work with the Kauai Marathon to organize it. The Kauai Marathon loved the plan and a few months later we had nearly 100 pairs of sizes for elementary and high school students shipped to Kauai.
This year was the first year the Kauai Marathon added Keiki (kid’s) races. The toddler trot was for kids up for 4 years old (100m dash), the 4-7 age group will race 1/4 mile and the 8-12 age group will race the 1/2 mile. The course was planned on a beautiful section of grass next to the Grand Hyatt. We also did a ‘fun run’ on a dirt cane road near the Grand Hyatt. In addition, Bart Yasso (CRO at Runner’s World), Dean Karnazes (ultramarathon man), Michael Wardian, and myself would be at the expo for presentations and Q&A. Since the high school runners rarely have the opportunity to learn about running, this was a great opportunity to get the high school kids excited for cross country season. The big goal of the two weeks: get kids inspired to run and live a healthy lifestyle while providing shoes to the kids that need them.
The Kauai Marathon decided to make a $500 donation to the school that brought in the most participants to the Keiki races. This was publicized and the marathon public relations director Robin Jumper went to work on organizing the elementary schools for me to give a presentation. I gave presentation to full school assemblies at four elementary schools and ran with three high school cross country teams. The goal was to get the kids excited to run the Keiki races, inform them what running is all about, and to share my experiences traveling across the US and the world. I learned that kids are very brave and love to ask questions. Some of the questions I received were…
“What the longest you’ve ever run?”
“How many medals do you have?”
“How many race have you won?”
“Have you ever raced Usain Bolt?”
When asked if I have ever raced Usain Bolt, my response was “No, but I guarantee that if he shows up on Sunday I can beat him in the marathon!!”
On Wednesday I had a meeting with the mayor where he was shocked at the generosity. He said that I was his “braddah” and I was blessed for helping with the kids. He explained how the island is building bike and walking paths to give kids and parents the opportunity to walk or bike to school/work. He was hopeful that the Kauai Marathon youth program and Newton Running would inspire more kids to lead a healthy lifestyle. This meeting with the mayor lead to a newspaper article (“Students Score Newtons”) in the Garden Isle that spread the word about the Kauai Marathon Youth Program and Newton shoes donation.
On Saturday morning, the course that race director Bob Craver and I designed, was fortunate to have an impressive 171 kids running around it with their parents and spectators cheering them on! To put that number into perspective, I talked to all schools within a half hour drive and that was about 750 kids less than 13 years old. Some of the kids came from the mainland, but that’s still over 10% of the keiki’s came from local elementary schools! I spent the morning cheering on the kids and taking pictures with them and their parents. It was a fantastic morning and a very successful event. I took so many pictures with families where I had spoke to the kids at the schools. My favorite was the registration form that came back saying they signed up because the daughter heard me speak in school. A picture says a 1,000 words so here are a few gems mostly from Jo Evans of Dakine Images of the event…
All Keiki races were led by a giant rooster. Yes, he is undefeated (121-0 in fact) in his career leading keiki races.
When I walked back to my room and laid down after the event, all I could think about was how incredible this event was. This was by far the most rewarding experience in my life. Immediately I started thinking… “How can I get more kids to participate? How do I help more kids have proper footwear? How do I inspire more kids to run and lead a healthy lifestyle? How in the world do I properly thank the Kauai Marathon and Newton Running for allowing me to be a part of this incredible experience? How do I spread the word to other runners about what an amazing family event the Kauai Marathon weekend is? How do we get more high school kids in Kauai to do cross country and participate in the events?
The next morning was the Kauai Marathon and my turn to run.
The next morning was the Kauai Marathon and my turn to run. I woke up at 2:45AM, had breakfast, and was browsing the newspaper to kill time. I found a 'letter to the editor' from one of the high school coaches who applauded me for being a role model for young kids. At that point I knew that I couldn't lose the race. After speaking to the kids about setting goals, working hard towards your goal, and then the joy of sharing your success with others, I knew I had to be a living example for them. Two hours, twenty-one minutes, thirty-three seconds, and 26.2 miles later I achieved my goal of winning the race and setting a new course record. I was motivated by the dozens of handmade signs on the course that said "Go Tyler" and the number of volunteers that cheered me on by name.
Pomaika'i is the hawaiian word for good fortune/good luck. When I was doing my last long run on the island before the race a white owl flew in front of me for nearly a mile. The owl is a symbol of pomaika'i and the white owl is the rarest of all. Without the fear of sounding cheesy, Newton Running is going to experience a lot of pomaika'i for the generosity this year. Thank you all for letting me be a part of it!
Enjoy the photos below…