Sharing the love, working the heart

LYDGATE — After clearing the water in the first leg of Saturday’s Family Fitness Swim and Run Challenge at Lydgate Park, Stacy Riccard led the flight of five contestants toward the sidewalk starting line for the 2.1-mile run.

The whole group veered off-course, however, to make a pit stop at the outdoor shower before lining up for the second half of the race.

“What’s a swim and run challenge without a little shower break,” Riccard laughed.

The Kapaa woman wasn’t worried about winning or losing — nobody was — and the runners took their time washing sand off their feet before donning running shoes.

Riccard was one of 28 participants who joined the fitness challenge coordinated by Jacob “Smilie” Punzal, Koloa resident and owner of Au’rai Fitness LLC.

It was held in conjunction with the annual Earth Day community work day in the park, sponsored by The Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park.

Lori Benkert of Lihue said she was stoked to be part of the challenge, adding that she wasn’t in it for a win, either. For her, the challenge was about connecting with friends and getting in a workout at the same time.

“We’re here to have fun and to support Smilie,” Benkert said. “And it’s pretty cool that this is the first race.”

That relaxed atmosphere was Punzal’s goal when he decided to create the event. He said the challenge is a way for families to connect and engage in healthy, heart-pumping activities together.

His fitness company, currently finalizing storefront space in Lihue, provided the perfect platform to launch the event. He said he decided to start the company after losing a significant amount of weight himself.

“I did it the natural way and I did it to get healthier for my kids,” Punzal said. “It just takes dedication and hard work and now I want to inspire others to do the same thing, and to have fun while they’re doing it.”

Riccard, also a fitness professional, said she showed up at the Saturday morning challenge to support Punzal’s idea of family health.

“I’m all about what Smilie is doing here,” Riccard said. “It’s inspiring and really fun to have this event and to connect it to the whole Earth Day cleanup.”

Once they wrapped up the fitness challenge, the participants dropped by the main pavilion for coffee and breakfast, and to get a photo taken in a booth set up by Crystal Yap of Lihue.

Yap is training with Punzal for a Muay Thai fight this summer.

“I do the photography on the weekends as kind of a side business,” Yap said. “So I’m just here, helping out and donating my time for this event. It’s great to be here.”

After a quick photo session, participants joined the Earth Day community work day.


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