The atmosphere was electric as hundreds of youth waded into the water and scurried on the beach for the 13th annual LavaKids Aquathlon as part of Lavaman Waikoloa weekend Saturday morning at Anaehoomalu Bay.
The popular event has been attached to the Lavaman triathlon — whether Waikoloa or the now defunct Keauhou race — for more than a decade, but the youth branch of Lavaman is readying for an explosive expansion.
Lavaman race director Gerry Rott and the LavaKids initiative were recently awarded a grant from the County of Hawaii to work with Parks and Recreation to become a resource for the Big Island’s youth on all sporting activities the island has to offer, as well as expanding LavaKids and forming more branded events year-round.
“We want kids to take control of their own health. Many kids have become sedentary and unfit, leading to a lack of self-image, among other health issues,” Rott said. “There is a great need for programs that can inspire kids to take their health and fitness into their own hands and motivate them to stay active and reap the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle. Positive self-image will help kids not only through their school years, but their entire lives.”
A primary focus of the program will be to create an easy to access calendar that encompasses all activities available for kids ages 7 to 18. The activities will range from Little League Baseball to youth endurance events.
“We are not trying to own any of these programs or compete with them,” Rott said. “We are trying to get the word out to parents and kids that these programs are available and who to contact for information.”
“As a parent, I feel there is a sort of disconnect currently when trying to find programs for my kids,” Sarie Imonen, a mother of three and one of LavaKids’ north side directors, said. “Having it all in one place, like LavaKids plans to do, is ideal for parents.”
As well as being a valuable resource, Rott also plans to expand LavaKids to simple, but more frequent events keiki can look forward to.
The tentative plan is to have two quarterly LavaKids events — one on the north side of the island, and another on the west side — with the possibility of eight events throughout the year. The continuity of the events will be the most important aspect, giving children a chance to break personal bests and strive for improvement.
But for keiki, breaking personal bests and numbers on a piece of paper are not always the greatest incentives — rewards are. Enter the LavaKids membership program.
“If you are a LavaKid, you take a pledge with your parents that you are going to take charge of your health and activity,” Rott said. “Everything from playing soccer or participating in a race is a point. When you reach a certain threshold of points, you get to attend a celebration.”
The final kinks are still being worked out, but expected rewards could include a day zip-lining or going on a snorkeling cruise.
“Peer influence is a critical ingredient to inspiring kids to become more active and engaged in their own health,” Rott said. “Kids also react very well when motivated by rewards and when they can see the results.”
The group has also formed alliances with area chefs and nutritionists who are willing to provide training and education so children learn about the foods they are putting into their bodies.
Rott plans on working with the Alex and Duke DeRego Foundation to provide young people with training in first aid and CPR, skills that safeguard their lives and the lives of others.
In addition, LavaKids will tap into the island’s bevy of triathletes to become mentors for the youth.
“We don’t want kids to be triathletes — that’s not what we are trying to do,” Rott said. “What we are trying to do is promote all aspects of a healthy lifestyle.”
LavaKids seems like another step in the right direction to get Big Island youth on the move. Over the past two years, the Waverider Triathlon Club, based out of Kealakehe High School, has been successful promoting the same goals for high school students.
Club alumni Dan Gampon and Keoni Smith finished the 2013 Ironman World Championship and have become fixtures on the local circuit. Before joining the club, neither had experience in triathlons.
Club member Leahi Camacho became the youngest to conquer the Kaiwi Channel this summer.
“Giving back to the community that has supported the Lavaman Triathlon is extremely important and one of the best ways we can service the community is to help promote healthy and active lifestyles for our youth,” Rott said. “There is stuff out there, so we are not reinvesting the wheel or anything, but I think we have the branding with Lavaman and some great mentors who will be attached to the program that will help make this great.”
For more information and updates on LavaKids, visit lavamantriathlon.com.