Q&A: Kailua-Kona Ultra-Endurance athlete and Great Wall of China challenger Jason Lester
The Great Wall of China is arguably the greatest feat of civil engineering in history, and indisputably Earth’s largest single cultural relic. It spans thousands miles and can even be seen from space.
Kailua-Kona resident and ultra-endurance athlete Jason Lester is attempting to be the first person to complete a solo run of the Great Wall of China. Lester’s goal is to run approximately 2,500 miles of the wall within 100 days. Though the wall is roughly 5,500 miles long, according to Lester only about 2,500 miles are suitable for running. To complete his goal, Lester will need to run nearly a marathon per day to stay on track.
Lester is no stranger to seemingly impossible feats. The EP1C Inc. founder is responsible for EPIC5 — a grueling five-day challenge that takes athletes through five Hawaiian Islands, completing a full iron-distance triathlon on each before moving on to the next. He is also the only person to complete the event three times.
The ESPY award winner has also biked (4,800 miles in 102 days) and run (3,550 miles in 72 consecutive days) across the United States for causes and has a pair of Ironman World Championship finishes under his belt. And Lester does it all with a partially paralyzed right arm, which he suffered, along with 21 broken bones and a collapsed lung, after being hit by a car on his bike at the age of 12.
Lester took some time out of his busy day on the Great Wall to discuss his journey and what keeps him inspired to never stop.
Q: You are attempting to be the first solo athlete to run the Great Wall of China. From where does an idea like this originate and what is the ultimate goal?
A: The Great Wall mission is an opportunity for many to look at their place in this world and make a decision to add value to it through positive actions and contributions. I am simply a vessel completely existing in my purpose and doing God’s work.
My hope is to inspire individuals to look within and decide if they want to make the choice to ignite their own passions and desires, as well as break down barriers and walls that we all allow others, ourselves and society to place around us.
These walls prevent us from living freely; these walls prevent us all from loving fellow man as God intended. This mission is about infinite reverberations of inspiration, honor, heritage and respect for the most monumental structure built by mankind.
Q: What has been your experience so far?
We are currently on Day 4. I’m averaging 26 miles a day right now. We started on Aug. 8 at 8 a.m. to honor and respect the number eight, which is China’s lucky number. Also to pay tribute to the Beijing Olympics which began on 08-08-08.
Q: You have a long history of completing feats that few thought possible, from biking 5,000 miles and running 3,500 miles across the U.S., to running on a treadmill for 24 hours straight and completing the EPIC5 challenge multiple times. What motivates you to do these things?
Using my gifts to inspire others — point blank. I didn’t choose endurance sports — it chose me.
I’m humbled and grateful to be able to use sport to inspire. Endurance sports is not my purpose, it’s my platform.
The day Hurricane Sandy happened was the day I said I’d run across the United States and suffer for those suffering. I was the face of the Nike “Better World” brand and campaign leading into the Olympics in order to share that sports changes lives. It’s been an honor and it’s my fuel to pound the pavement day in and day out for the past 20 years.
Q: What are some of the toughest moments you have had during your journeys?
I’ve sacrificed my life and surrendered to this calling. I’ve been racing since the age of 15. I did my first biathlon by 17 and have not stopped since.
I’ve missed funerals, birthdays and weddings because of being on the road six months out of the year serving others and spreading the message to never stop.
Q: When did you get heavily involved with endurance sports and get on the path you are on now?
I grew up playing baseball and football. After my freshman-year baseball season, I went out for the cross-country team and found my true passion in running.
At 16 years old, I went into a tattoo parlor with a fake ID and got the Ironman logo tattooed on me after seeing it in Winning Magazine. I thought it was the biggest event in the world. Three sports in one day.
I started racing biathlons by 17, and by the time I was 18 I was ranked second in the state of Arizona for biathlons, placing first in the 18-and-under category.
Interesting enough, I used to race against well-known Kona triathlete Luis De La Torre in Arizona when I was a teen. He was always one age group ahead of me and he was crushing it back then.
My freshman year at Arizona State University I walked on the cross-country team and soon found one sport wasn’t enough and multisports was going to be my lifestyle for life. Ironman, Ultraman, EPIC5, EPICMAN, biking across the country and then running back across within a year — it’s been an epic journey.
None of this would be possible without my partners who believe in my missions.
Q: Among your career highlights is winning an ESPY award as Best Male Athlete with a Disability in 2009. It was considered an upset over Olympian Oscar Pistorius. What was that experience like?
Sitting next to Michael Phelps, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and many others who have been a source of inspiration was magical. Being up against a gold medalist in my category in an Olympic year, and then beating Oscar was a shock to many, including myself. To have Samuel Jackson announce your name as the winner is monumental.
I created EPIC5 from my seat at the ESPY awards. I wanted a way to thank Hawaii for gracefully supporting me and voting me in.
Q: What are some of the benefits you see having Kailua-Kona as your home base and training ground?
I’ve been living in Kona for eight years now but it seems like a lifetime. It’s home. I think about Kona all the time during these long missions and it brings tears every time. There is no love greater than the love from the Big Island.
The benefits are that we have the most epic training opportunities that I honestly feel most athletes here do not use. I train up on Mauna Kea for my long adventures. People seem to think the Queen Kaahumanu is the only option to train because of the Ironman.
I’ve trained all over the world — Boulder, Colorado; San Diego, California; Canada and Europe. Kona is the mecca and the EP1C Lab that is set to open once I finish the Wall has a mission to share why the Big Island is the mecca of endurance sports.
Q: What are some sources of inspiration for you?
On my flight over to China, I listened to Mayor Billy Kenoi’s speech he gave at Hawaii Pacific University in May. It was exactly what I needed to hear as a confirmation that what I was about to attempt was a dream come true. I have a lot of admiration and respect for our mayor. For his dedication and desire to inspire our young and elders to reach for the stars.
Lastly, there is a beautiful young lady back home in Hilo that is my biggest inspiration of all. To my daughter, Katana, I love you.