Kona athlete running across U.S. for Superstorm Sandy relief
Jason Lester left San Francisco, Calif., on foot May 5. He has been running daily at least two marathons since towards New York as a part of a grueling run across America. That’s 14 to 16 hours every day for two months.
This 3,100-mile coast-to-coast trek is more than a running odyssey and dream come true for Lester, a 38-year-old ultra-endurance athlete from Kona. It’s also an opportunity to raise money and awareness for Waves For Water, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that’s tirelessly coordinating a full-fledge Hurricane Relief Initiative in response to Superstorm Sandy, which hit the U.S. East Coast last year.
While running past mountains, valleys, farm land and cities, big and small, Lester talks about his pursuit and progress with all he encounters and his growing online community. His message is always of hope and inspiration. His goal is to raise $20,000, “enough to rebuild a home for one family and give them a restorative step forward toward the future.”
Superstorm Sandy took lives and devastated communities, causing billions in damages. The damage left behind by can still be seen months later. Wanting to help those who have lost everything and assist with the rebuilding efforts, Lester got involved with Waves For Water, which was founded by his friend and former professional surfer Jon Rose. This was not unusual for Lester, who has used sport for philanthropic and humanitarian causes before.
Last year, Lester ran and biked 4,800 miles across the nation in 102 days for Nike’s Journey for a Better World, spreading the message of the positive power of sport. The 2009 ESPY award-winning Best Male Athlete with a Disability, Lester lost the use of his right arm at age 12 in a horrible car accident and has never let this challenge or others stop his desire to be a world-class athlete. Today, he has completed in multiple Ultraman and Ironman triathlons, as well as ultra-marathons. He also became the first man to run 316-miles nonstop from Las Vegas through Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, Calif., over six days in 2011. All of those experiences, as well as his training done on the Big Island, has helped prepare him for his present epic endeavor.
Still, Lester insists “you can’t really train for this kind of brutal run and repetitive activity; all you can do is show up injury-free and as healthy as possible.” He also asserts the mission matters more than the man.
“It has always been a mission of mine to run across the United States for a greater purpose than myself. I want this run to be a motivational experience for the countless cities and communities that make up our great country. This is a run of inspiration, which I hope will encourage and motivate individuals, families, and communities to make changes for the better,” he said. “This opportunity to use my gifts to create a new start and restore hope is truly an enormous blessing for me. Although many have lost everything, they are not focusing on their losses, but on the abundance of love and support that they have for their families, friends, and communities. They have chosen to rise and never stop believing.”
Speaking from Iowa on June 19, Lester said he has raised approximately $16,500, an “encouraging” total. He asks that people contribute whatever they can to the cause, which is “an opportunity to stand up, join the team and make positive impact for those who have suffered a loss.” Lester remains just as optimistic about reaching his fundraising goal as he does reaching the finish line. He estimated having about 1,000 miles left, which would take about 14 to 17 days to complete.
Assisting Lester is a three-member crew, which includes Kona artist and triathlete Alika Hoomana. Since joining the team this month in Colorado, Hoomana has been regularly running and biking alongside Lester, sharing stories and supporting his mental game. Roughly 50 to 65 miles of ground are covered per day, often through barren or rural terrain. Lester has run through snow, as well as in high mountain regions with crisp, thin air and in thunderstorms. He’s seen incredible wildlife and nonstop beauty.
The crew works long hours, typically from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. They spend most of their nights and off-time in a 32-foot RV, though a number of local families and supporters have taken them in, cooked meals, donated fresh produce from fields, offered Bibles, and even sheltered them in basements during tornado scares. They have experienced a constant groundswell of generosity as people of all walks of life continue to step forward with acts of kindness. Lester said he’s humbled by those met and the stories shared.
Lester has preserved because of overwhelming support from his crew, friends, family, sponsors, strangers and well-wishers. Also helping him along the way is Chase Kowalski, whom Lester believes has had his back the entire time.
Chase was one of the children fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Just weeks after his death, Lester spoke with Chase’s mother, Rebecca, who is passionate about carrying on her son’s mission of inspiring others to be active and live their dream. Lester said Chase reminded him a lot of himself.
“Chase was a happy, full of life jokester and a great athlete who ran with pure joy and passion,” Lester said. “For this journey, I have been wearing his name on my back as a constant reminder to inspire others to live their dream. It’s an honor to be an ambassador for him, his family and their vision of starting a foundation. I feel like Chase is running in spirit with me, helping guide me every step of the way.”
To donate or learn more, go to r-u-n.us.