Editor’s note: This is one in a series of Q&As with members of the Big Island sporting community.
It’s hard to find someone who embodies the aloha spirit more than Sean “Peaman” Pagett.
While Peaman’s heath has been on the decline in the past few decades, the 50-year-old’s sturdy spirit has remained intact.
Since 1987, the eternal optimist and Konawaena High School graduate has staged nearly 350 fun, free, and sometimes strangely named events on the Big Island with the goal of bringing the community together and emphasizing the importance of exercise.
The four-time Ironman finisher (1982, ’83, ’89 and ’94), Big Island Sports Hall of Fame member and recipient of the Mayor’s Award for Excellence as well as countless other accolades, took time out of his schedule to sit down with West Hawaii Today to discuss what sparked his passion for putting on Peaman events, his perspective on the health of endurance sports on the Big Island, and even the beginnings of his legendary nickname.
Q: What is the Peaman origin story? Was there a moment or something that sparked you to start putting on Peaman events?
A: It is multifaceted. When I started this everyone had the running fever and wanted to do 5Ks, 10Ks and marathons. It was really big. Then suddenly insurance started causing a lot of races to cancel, causing our activity calendar in Kona to dwindle down.
Here I am, some punk kid at 20-something-years-old, saying, ‘We don’t need no insurance. We don’t need no waivers. I don’t care, sue me. I don’t have anything but this cardboard box.’
From there I made up Frozen Pea Productions and I used that silly name because I thought it was funny. I thought we could be the opposite of Ironman. Ironman is long, hard, grueling and expensive. Peaman events are short, easy, free and fun.
One day someone said, ‘Hey, there’s that pea guy.’ It evolved into Peaman and has stuck ever since.
Q: Can you talk a little about your condition and what effect it has had on your life?
A: The accident happened when I was 9 years old when we were back visiting Manhattan Beach, California. A drunk driver hit us going almost 70 mph, killing my mother instantly. It put me in the hospital for an extended amount of time and caused major damage to my pituitary gland, which helps maintain your body’s muscle mass.
During the accident I had the experience of going toward the loving light of God and then going back into my body. I would say that moment has formed my life in a very positive way.
When I was in high school, no one knew how bad the pituitary damage was. When everyone else was growing facial hair and wanting to have girlfriends, I wanted to play in the mud. I was not interested in standing in the hallway with fancy clothes. I wanted to throw the ball around like we did in elementary school.
In high school, I was running track and playing Pop Warner football and doing all the things normal kids did, but just having a lot of pain and unusual health situations. Suddenly, my femur breaks and they tell me I have the bone density of a 70-year-old man and that I have osteoporosis.
If you look now, as far as my heath and the pain I’m in, I still say it is a blessing. I would not be doing what I’m doing if it was not for that.
Q: How do you deal with the rough patches?
A: Last year before the Hapuna Rough Water Swim was a big rough patch. I was hovering around 80 pounds and sometimes sleeping up to 36 hours at a time. To do Hapuna — I cannot even explain it. On paper, it was nearly impossible.
When you go into something and tell yourself you can’t do it, you’re not going to do it. In the years I was able to do Ironman, I did not train as much as I should have, but never told myself I couldn’t do it. When I did train, I wouldn’t wear a watch or heart monitor because I didn’t want something to telling me what my limits were. I just go by how I feel, regardless of time or numbers.
I think the way I make it through the rough patches is with consistency and not giving up. I do what I can do, but make the effort to get up and do it. Movement is what keeps me alive.
Q: What do you hope people take away from a Peaman event?
A: I would say the beauty of Kona and the giving nature of the people here.
I always hope people experience aloha in its purest form, which is when people come together and celebrate the day. I really get perturbed when people talk bad about Hawaii and say the aloha is gone. There is always aloha, you just have to find it.
Our slogan is, “Live, Laugh and be a Pea.” All these people who are so called “adults” love a kids party better. People are big kids and just want to have fun. That’s my belief.
Q: Do you think the simplicity of the events helps with that?
A: Simplicity is key. We don’t want to intimidate people before they even get to the race.
We have no entry fee and no application and only signing out. You don’t have to do anything beforehand. Someone could come down five minutes before and ask what they have to do to race, and I’ll tell them just head down to the start and get ready to go.
We are humbly proud that we have been able to put races on so that people can walk and be social, or race and be serious.
Q: What’s your opinion on the health of endurance sports on the Big Island?
A: It is on the upswing and it is continuing because of the youth movement. The kids are coming up and enjoying more active lives and seeing how important fitness is.
The first time I did Ironman I was 18. Cars could still go on the road and the bikes were big and clunky. No one knew what to eat either. Halfway through the race you could holler for some Burger King and then eat it on your bike. There was a lot more throwing up going on back then.
Now it is in your face in bold lettering — this has no sugar, this is gluten-free, this is all natural. In general, the amount of knowledge there is out there on the human body and the importance of fitness gets people into sports.
Q: What role do you believe sports play for youth?
A: Sports are a really good way to set kids up for the rest of their lives. I think coaches and sports really set your character on who you are from everything from your personal relationships to work, and how you manage your life. You learn that discipline and dedication.
Q: What pushed you to do Ironman?
A: I wanted the adventure of finishing something like that. To participate in something that is the equivalent of the Super Bowl of that sport is uncommon. There are not many sports where you are side-by-side with world champions and the top athletes in the game. No one ever says, ‘I’m going to go play in the World Series.’ You can actually do the Ironman.
Q: What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of what you do?
A: It would probably be the changes in the people over time, over almost three decades now. Seeing the kids grow up from a baby stroller to a great runner, or even better a great person, is tremendous.
I have had people come up and tell me they just got over an addiction to drugs, or were 300 pounds and lost a ton of weight and having the Peaman races and that community there helped them through it. I’m in tears when I hear things like that. Having someone express how profound the experience was for them, when really I’m just a guy who wanted to play, have fun and pursue my passion.
Q: What are some of the best memories you have from the Peaman events?
A: Of course, meeting my wife Linda Jane Kelley at the Post Pigout Plunge in November of 1989. I remember her coming up and being so genuinely thankful. We got to be really good friends and have been together ever since.
I think of everyone at the events being family, but when Linda Jane, Sparky, Bucky (children) and my dad (Bill “Papa Pea” Pagett) come down, there is nothing like it. Those are the times that really stand out.
I just feel beyond blessed to have been a part of this. I get all the praise, but I always say these are community events, put on by the community, for the community. We really all come together. For me, I didn’t do anything but go down and play with my friends.