Spectators cheered as young triathletes charged toward the finish line behind the Kona Community Aquatic Center Saturday.
Wearing an ostrich racing costume, Hawaii County Recreation Administrator Mason Souza ran up and down the chute, enthusiastically announcing the names of the Keiki Triathlon finishers.
Eight-year-old Ciara Blaber of Kona was elated upon finishing the race, saying the run was the most difficult part. Her motivation to pick it up on the last leg was simple. “I wanted to beat the boys,” she said.
Blaber won first place in the Girls 7-8 Division, with a time of 14 minutes, 48 seconds. She was only about 1 minute behind Clay Russell and Levi Farinas, who were the top two finishers in the Boys 7-8 Division.
Blaber expressed gratitude for her dad, Paul, who rooted for every stroke, peddle and step she did.
“It helps a lot having someone encouraging and supporting you,” she said. “You know you can do it.”
Blaber decided to participate in the second annual triathlon for two reasons. First, Blaber thought it would be fun to ride her bike a long distance. Typically, she only goes up and down her driveway. Second, Blaber thinks “it’s important to be fit and healthy.” She said exercising, participating in sports, and eating well are all things that can help you live a long healthy life — one without cancer, diabetes or other diseases. Triathlon and other sports also “make you feel good,” she added.
The Keiki Triathlon is for children ages 7 to 14. It’s organized by the Hawaii Police Department’s Hawaii Isle Police Activities League, or HI-PAL, and the county Department of Parks and Recreation. Overwhelming community support helps make the event a success. This year’s volunteers included Lava Kids, Lavaman Triathlons, Keauhou Canoe Club, Ultraman, Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii, Big Island Running Co., Bike Works, Hawaii Cycling Club, Ironman World Championship finishers and Kealakehe High School Waveriders Triathlon Club.
The Keiki Triathlon is held the Saturday following the Ironman World Championship, one of the most grueling and celebrated endurance races, and is in conjunction with the West Hawaii Mayor’s Health Fest. Both county-organized events are part of the mayor’s Healthy Hawaii Island Initiative, which includes programs to connect, build and activate a healthy community.
Saturday’s triathlon consisted of a 100-yard swim at the Kona Community Aquatic Center, followed by a 3.2-mile bike ride and a 1-mile run within the Old Kona Airport Park complex. However, children, ages 7 and 8, raced half those distances.
Nearly 70 children competed. Medals were awarded to the top three finishers, both boys and girls, in each age division. All participants who completed the course received commemorative certificates and treats.
The goal of the Keiki Triathlon is to encourage healthy lifestyles and good sportsmanship. The event also gives children a competitive edge in life, as well as helps create a foundation for lifelong positive social and physical habits, said HI-PAL Officer Randy Morris.
Morris and HI-PAL Officer Joseph Botelho Jr. came up with event when their bosses challenged them to come up with something different for the program. HI-PAL provides positive social and athletic activities for Big Island children, ages 5 to 17, without duplicating current services provided by Parks and Recreation. The program strives to provide recreation for children, particularly those not involved in any extracurricular activities or considered at risk because of economic, geographical or social situations.
HI-PAL cultivates friendly relationships between youth and police officers, as well as helps improve moral and civic standards for children in the community. It provides a safe meeting place for children to engage in common interests, such as basketball and baseball. It also promotes sportsmanship, benevolence, friendship, sociability, goodwill and tolerance.
Botelho said a mini triathlon seemed like the perfect event for West Hawaii children, many of whom have heard about, watched or volunteered for Ironman races. Having the triathlon community’s involvement, including Ironman World Championship finishers, not only legitimizes the event, but may also inspire keiki to attempt to conquer the big race someday, he added.
Kona residents Keoni Smith and Dan Gampon, both 18, were among the Ironman World Championship finishers who volunteered Saturday. For the friends, completing the pinnacle competition of the Ironman sports world was a dream come true. They did better than they had imagined, with Smith completing the race at 11:28:01 and Gampon finishing at 11:48:49. Though they have only been in the triathlon world for 11 months, they feel like the sport will always be a major part of their lives. They said they are grateful for what the sport has taught and brought out of them.
Now University of Hawaii Center at West Hawaii students, Gampon and Smith are working toward careers in physical therapy and paramedic, respectively. They came to Saturday’s race to support the next generation of athletes. They were inspired by what they saw, particularly the young competitors’ determination and enthusiasm. Both said they wished such an event existed when they were growing up. They agreed the race was a phenomenal way to introduce children to the sport and have the opportunity to experience individual accomplishment.
“Triathlon teaches you to have guts,” Gampon said. “It isn’t easy. There’s a lot of commitment, and you have to work hard. It builds a lot of character.”
Botelho said the lessons learned during the Keiki Triathlon are the same as those received in other HI-PAL activities. Besides having fun, he hoped Saturday’s triathletes learned the benefits of hard work, respect for authority and their peers, and the importance of sportsmanship. For him, the best part was the continuous enjoyment, which was evident by the smiles of children and adults.
Standing on the sideline, 9-year-old Kona residents Makana Manuel and Naia Balancio held brightly colored signs for their best friend Shaiah Garana, whom they described as “a really good athlete.” Prior to the start of Keiki Triathlon, they told Garana to try her hardest and not to worry because she’ll do great. Manuel and Balancio cheered excitedly when seeing Garana head strong toward the finish line. They, along with other friends and family members, showered Garana with lei, homemade gifts, high fives, hugs and congratulations.
Garana, 8, was grateful for the outpouring of encouragement she received, saying her supporters motivated her to only go faster. When her sneakers hit the pavement for the run, all she kept thinking was “finish the race.” For Garana, soccer is her favorite sport and Saturday’s triathlon was just an opportunity to try something new. She said the run was the best because it was the easiest part.
2013 Keiki Triathlon Winners
1. Ciara Blaber 14:48
2. Maile Imonen 15:18
3. Alextasy Navarro 16:12 Boys 7-8
1. Clay Russell 13:21
2. Levi Farinas 13:44
3. Nathan Grocholski 14:53
1. Kulani Paikuli-Campbell 21:14
2. Riley Blaber 24:06
3. Meleana Spencer 24:55 Boys 9-10
1. Carson Nishida 20:47
2. Kaipono Benson 20:54
3. Ryan Arceo 22:21
Girls 11-12 1. Aubrey Carter 19:09
2. Nani Spaar 19:39
3. Kaila Ambrosio 19:59 Boys 11-12
1. Brock Imonen 16:39
2. Christian Stirling 17:50
3. Trey Tina 18:06
1. Audrey Nixon 18:37
2. Jaelyn Estbilio 22:01
3. Hopoe Napoleon-Martins 24:13 Boys 13-14
1. Majdi Mariano 15:47
2. Izrael Bowden 16:32
3. Justin Kenoi 18:53