‘I want to be like you’

Shortly after giving a presentation about his running exploits on Friday at Koloa Elementary School, three-time Kauai Marathon winner Tyler McCandless and his girlfriend Kristin McCormick were at Big Save.

As they stood in an aisle looking for bottled water, a young boy ran up, handed McCandless an envelope, and quickly scurried away. The note said: “I want to be like you some day and run marathons.”

McCandless nearly cried when he read it.

“It was just that inspiring,” he said. “When we get more seeds planted like that, we get a healthier community.”

Motivating and encouraging young runners is a passion for McCandless, who is here to run the Kauai half marathon, which begins at 6 a.m. today on Poipu Road, along with the full 26.2-mile marathon. More than 1,500 runners are registered for the full and the half marathons.

If you want evidence of his commitment to encouraging kids, you should have seen him wearing a bright, yellow chicken outfit and leading six age group races at the third annual Keiki Run at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort on Saturday. Afterward, he sat soaked in sweat, cooling down, but with a big grin.

“It was so special because they were just having so much fun,” he said. “Some of these kids, they don’t care about beating anyone else. They just care about beating the children.”

Nearly 150 boys and girls came out for the popular event, cheered on by proud parents, siblings and friends. A roar erupted when, shortly before the first race between two and four year olds got underway, the chicken bounded out, offered high fives, waves and fired up the athletes.

“Folks, the keiki run chicken is here,” said emcee J.T. Service. “This is the fastest chicken I have ever seen.”

“I want to know which one of you is going to beat this chicken,” he added.

One boy jumped from the line of waiting runners: “You’re looking at him,” he shouted.

Depending on age groups, distances for the races ranged from 100 yards to a half mile. McCandless set the pace for each, and, showing his spirit, a few charged by him near the finish line, bringing big smiles to their faces.

It wasn’t easy as it sounds for one of this nation’s finest distance runners to hold off the young charges.

“Right off the start, they were just flying,” he said, laughing.

There’s a price to be paid for wearing a heavy costume on a warm, sunny morning: Sweat. It filled the rubber beak, forcing McCandless to tilt his head back so it could pour out. And let’s say his vision in that outfit wasn’t 20/20.

“I was a little afraid of hitting anybody,” he said.

But there was a benefit, too.

McCandless recalled that two years ago he cheered the kids on at the keiki run, and was so energized by their efforts, he set a course record for the marathon the next day.

“I’ll probably have my best race tomorrow because of it,” he said. “It inspires you.”

When the running was done, despite being weary and needing rest for today’s race, McCandless hung around, greeted youth and posed for pictures. Some vowed to return next year and defeat him, which is what he loves to hear. Their energy and enthusiasm is a gift, he said. They are the epitome of the sheer joy he finds in the sport.

“The kids have so much joy and love,” he said.

While on Kauai, McCandless will meet with students, distribute Newton Running shoes, his sponsor, and continue to promote and expand a mentorship running program between high school and elementary students. When kids learn early that running is fun, it’s something they’ll continue to do and be active outside, he said. They won’t focus on video games and staying inside.

“Building a community around youth running and health and wellness is just so important,” he said.

His overall message is nothing complicated. In fact, it’s simple.

“Running is fun.”

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