Q&A: Lavaman finisher Mayor Billy Kenoi


Billy Kenoi has a pretty busy schedule, but the mayor of Hawaii Island made time Sunday to race in Lavaman Waikoloa.

Kenoi was greeted by a raucous crowd as he crossed the line at Anaehoomalu Bay in 3 hours 8 minutes and 20 seconds — a personal best by nearly a half-hour.

After recuperating from the taxing Olympic distance course, Kenoi talked about the experience, his decision to start participating in endurance events, how he finds time for them, and the LavaKids program expansion.

• What was it like out there on the course?

I’m so inspired by our kupuna, the kids from Kealakehe Waverider Triathlon Club racing, and our visitors from all around the country and different continents who made the trip to be here. It’s so inspiring to be out there. The volunteers are great and this is just a beautiful course.

I shaved 24 minutes off my time from last year, so I’m pretty happy about that.

It was funny. I noticed people do not want me to beat them out there. They see me and think, ‘Oh the mayor is coming. I can’t let him beat me.’”

I know I’m inspiring others and I hear about other county employees — firefighters, police and others — and they say if Billy did it, I want to do it. It is fun to share the excitement of triathlon with the people in the community.

• Why did you decided to start doing races like Lavaman?

I grew up on the east side of the island, around Kalapana and Puna. I never witnessed the Ironman triathlon.

The economy was down in 2008-09 when I took office. We had to promote anything positive we had going on the island, so for the first time I went to Ironman and I was astounded. There, I’ve seen people 80 years old finish, people without legs finish.

I stood there, overweight, and said this is the most inspiring thing I have ever seen. I’ve been to Final Fours at my school, I saw a Super Bowl, but to see Ironman and the celebration of human spirit inspired me. I had no idea that was happening on Hawaii Island.

Also, it is a personal challenge. I want to be a better mayor every day. I want to be a better husband, and a father. Chasing a triathlon helps you be the best you that you can be.

If we can all be the best we can be personally, we will most certainly have a healthier community and a more positive community. Ultimately, that will drive down health care cost at the end of the day just by being a healthier community.

It’s the old Benjamin Franklin adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

• With your job, how do you find time to train for a triathlon?

People look at me funny and wonder how I have the time for something like this. I try to plan ahead. I keep a pair of goggles, shoes, and change of clothes in my car. If I get a half-hour break in Kona, I’ll go jump in at the pier. If I can get to the gym, I’ll get in a quick spin and maybe go for a run after work.

With my job, it can be a little pressure-packed. It’s a nice reliever to get out there and exercise. People think with training you have to put in hours at a time, but really a half-hour here, and a half-hour there adds up. You start walking past the mirror and see the belly shrinking, and even the kids say, ‘Dad, looks like your clothes are looking a little big on you.’ That’s motivation.

• Are you excited for the recently announced expansion of LavaKids?

I’m so stoked for LavaKids. It is all about the keiki.

We want to launch them, not lose them. A lot of time people will say it’s just sports; but really, it is so much more than that. They learn the more you put in, the more you get out. The better you work, the better you do.

If the kids can catch on early to those values and encourage each other and learn that strength comes from lifting each other up instead of pushing each other down, we can go a long way. Lessons like these are the value I see in LavaKids and all youth activities.

To me, any activity that engages kids with a caring adult, I’m for it. It could be auto racing, motocross, chess, art, culture, painting, basketball, baseball — whatever. It is all good.

These things do not take a lot of government funds either to run because there are already adults making these things happen. Our job is to help facilitate and do the little things.

It’s like a potluck, not a buffet. People think they are going to walk up and the government is going to lay out the paper goods, rice, food, desserts and drinks. But we all have to bring a little something to the table. At the end of the day we have a wonderful potluck. Everybody gets what they need.