Joel Punzal runs and pays for his entire staff to participate in the Kauai half marathon

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Dr. Joel Punzal and Brity Punzal, center, and the crew of Punzal Vision, including Casey Ai, Tianne Castillo, Lehua Watanabe, Shaylyn Silva, Pua Cobb-Adams and Karl Oshiro, pick up their race packets at the Wilcox Heath Sports and Fitness Expo Friday at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Poipu.

The question was: “Half or full?”

When Dr. Joel Punzal asked this of his staff, the usual answer was “full” — until they learned the query was in reference to the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon.

Which distance did they want to be signed up for, 26.2 miles or 13.1?

“Everyone changed their answer to the half,” said the owner of Punzal Vision in Lihue and an avid runner who smiled as he recounted how he recruited and paid the entry fees for everyone in the office to run in this 10th annual event on Sunday.

“It’s good team-building. It’s something that we all look forward to,” he said.

Well, almost everyone.

“I’m not going to lie. He had to twist our arms a little bit,” said Pua Cobb-Adams, practice manager. “But it’s good our team is doing it.”

This will be Cobb-Adams’ first half marathon and her first race since a 10k back in her high school days.

“Which was 17 years ago,” she said, laughing.

She gave birth to her fifth child a year ago and said she doesn’t have that much time to exercise. But preparing for the half marathon over the past months, on her own and in group runs with her co-workers, has made a big difference.

“That gave me a self-confidence boost,” she said.

Come Sunday, she hopes to enjoy herself, push the pace when she can, and not get hurt.

“I’m looking forward to my first race with my team here,” she said.

Likewise for Karl-Anthony Oshiro, licensed optician.

This will be his third half marathon, and he’s been working hard to get in shape for it.

“I’m hoping to cut at least a half hour off my time,” he said. “I’m excited to see what the final outcome will be.”

Oshiro appreciates the efforts and encouragement of Punzal.

“He’s always there to help me, push me,” he said. “We’re all in this together as a family. It keeps us going.”

Joel Punzal is a fixture on the local running scene and is hard to miss. The muscular, 5-3, 135-pounder is tattooed on the left side of his upper body and his right leg and doesn’t wear a shirt in races.

He’s been running consistently since 2010.

“I like the way it makes me feel, before, during and after,” he said. “I love that feeling when you’re pushing yourself and you’re at that point at the end of the run, physically my body is telling me to stop. Mentally, you push through it until the very end. Once you finish, you’re so happy that you’re done.”

His schedule is demanding. As an optometrist with a thriving practice on Kauai since 2003, he works six days a week. He and wife Brity, who is chief financial officer for Punzal Vision, have three daughters. So he rises about 4 a.m. to get in his workout, which centers around running for cardio and weights for strength.

Hard work is paying off, and he believes he is stronger.

“I feel like I’m faster,” he said. “I can hold a faster pace longer.”

Last year, he and his brother, Jacob “Smilie” Punzal, who owns Au Rai Fitness in Lihue, entered a body-building competition and did well.

But his focus now is on 13.1 miles on Sunday. He’ll be joined by the entire staff of seven at the starting line. He offered to pay the registration fee last year, and about half accepted.

This year, all did, which of course, keeps the boss happy.

“It’s a good event for everybody,” he said.

To help his staff prepare, they have done several group long runs of up to 12 miles on weekends that build unity and camaraderie, as well as physical conditioning.

Joel Punzal has completed four full Kauai Marathons and four half marathons. He missed only the first year in 2009.

He has a best of 4 hours, 7 minutes in the 2012 marathon, and 1:49:19 in the half in 2017.

“I want to get a sub-four marathon eventually,” he said.

Came close. One year he was at 3:30 with three miles to go when he bonked.

“My body just shut down,” he said, shaking his head. “I had to walk.”

He enjoys having a major race on Kauai, and loves being part of the crowd of more than 2,200 registered runners.

“It really gets you going,” he said.

He’s feeling good for Sunday’s race. He’s taken some days off to rest and when he has a hard time sleeping at night, that means he’s a little nervous.

But so is his staff.

“Everybody is getting a little nervous,” he said. “Jitters, things like that.”

Tianne Castillo, ophthalmic assistant, declined to run the race last year, but this time decided to go for it.

“I want to be able to say that I did the Kauai half,” she said.

She said she wasn’t a runner before, so “trying to get into that whole cardio deal was new for me.”

While she’s nervous about running 13.1 miles, she said the training with her co-workers has helped. When she or someone was tired and wanted to walk, others rallied around them.

“We pushed each other. ‘C’mon, you can do it,’” Castillo said. “I feel like I’m more motivated to actually run and not give up as easily.”

Brity Punzal will be going after her fourth half marathon and has completed one full Kauai Marathon.

“I don’t think I’ll ever do it again,” she said, laughing. “But it’s a good thing to get off my bucket list.”

Her husband, she said, is definitely dedicated to physical fitness, and is a good encourager and motivator.

“It’s important to him,” she said.

Joel Punzal, the son of Ernest and Joyce Punzal, grew up on Kauai and graduated from Kapaa High in 1994. He earned his undergraduate degree from Seattle University and his doctor of optometry degree from Indiana University.

He’s been practicing on Kauai 15 years and, in March 2017, moved to a new location at 4454 Nuhou Street, Suite 513.

So, with a happy family life, great health and successful career, what’s the secret to his success?

Punzal nods.

“Surround yourself with other successful people,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gotten to this point without my wife and my staff here. Customer service is paramount for us.”

“I’m the best at seeing patients,” he continued. “But I surrounded myself with other people who are much smarter than me in other aspects.”

But they’re not faster.

•••

Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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