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EPIC5: Duo wraps up grueling 5-day endurance challenge

Updated: 
May 10, 2014 - 12:05am

T o say the EPIC5 challenge is ambitious, demanding or difficult is simply an understatement.

“Epic” is the only superlative that can truly describe the scale of the five-day journey that takes athletes on a trek through five Hawaiian Islands, completing a full iron-distance triathlon — 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run — on each island before moving on to the next.

New York residents Christopher Brennan and Chris Solarz plunged into the water at Kailua Pier on Friday for the final leg of the challenge, just hours after finishing the run portion on Maui Friday morning and catching a flight into Kailua-Kona. The two are expected to join the small fraternity of athletes to have completed the journey over the event’s four-year history.

Keith Rieger joined the duo in the water. Rieger decided to enter just weeks before the event and completed three of the five island stages.

The challenge started on Kauai on Monday before taking the athletes to Oahu, Molokai and Maui before finishing up on the Big Island. The three athletes were projected to be on the course until later in the evening and arrive back at the pier after press time Friday to conclude what has become known as the “victory lap” of EPIC5.

Kailua-Kona residents Dan Gampon and Mike DeCarli, as well as a relay team, also participated in the final stage as solo athletes.

The event is the creation of EP1C Inc. founder Jason Lester, who is also the only person to complete the trek three times, 2010, ‘11 and ‘12.

Lester became the first triathlete to win an ESPN ESPY award in 2009 when he took home Best Male Athlete with a Disability. Lester, who competes with a paralyzed right arm, was seen as the upset winner over Oscar Pistorius and credited the passionate Hawaii community for voting him as the winner.

Since then, the ultra-endurance athlete has constantly looked for ways to give back to the Kailua-Kona community — which he has called home for more than a decade — through events such as EPIC5 and his Never Stop Foundation.

“After I won the award I was thinking of ways I could give back to Hawaii,” Lester said. “When we thought of EPIC5 everyone was telling me it was humanly impossible. But I started this event so other athletes could take their body and mind to places they never thought they could.”

Lester and colleague Rich Roll were the only participants in 2010’s inaugural challenge.

“The first time around was a testing year, learning the logistics of how to make this possible,” Lester said. “We saw the good, bad and the ugly.

“I remember getting to Maui and Rich looked at me and said, ‘You are trying to kill me.’ I told him you are going to grow from this, as I helped carry him to his room. Those are the moments you look back and see how much both of us grew from the first event. He has gone on to do tremendous things since then, and I know if I had not set up EPIC5 I would not be where I am either.”

Lester said he receives around 25 applications a year to participate in EPIC5, but chooses the participants carefully, looking more at intangibles than what is on an applicant’s racing resume.

“It is not a large event because it can’t be,” Lester said. “We find guys who can work together as a team, because you really feed off the energy of those around you when you are running on empty. Once you get to Molokai — what I feel is the hardest island — you are running on very little sleep. You need each other to make it happen.”

Lester was unable to attend this year’s event because of a prior commitment in China. However, he kept in contact with the race participants via video chats.

In his absence, a committed crew of volunteers, working 15 to 17 hours each day, helped facilitate the event.

“Our crew and volunteers make this happen. They are often up before and go to sleep after the athletes,” Lester said. “The community involvement has been great, too. You will see people jumping in for a few miles. Every year it is nonstop memories. I really want to thank everybody in Kona for the support with EPIC5, my missions and career.”

For more on the event, visit EPIC5.com. Follow Jason Lester on Twitter at @jasonlester for more events.