Stumbles, sprints and smiles highlight annual Waimea race

WAIMEA — Walter McConnell has run the Captain Cook Caper Run 15 times. And all 15 times, he’s won his age group.

He did it again Saturday morning, and it may have been his toughest victory yet. The 85-year-old was running strong in the 5K until the last half mile.

“I started really feeling tied up and having trouble with my feet and when I made the turn, I fell down,” he said.

McConnell got up, a bit disoriented, but resumed running with help from Joe Williams, who guided him down the stretch to the cheers of the crowd.

“I was hoping to run in fast to the finish, but I didn’t do that,” said the New Yorker who visits Kauai often with his wife.

While disappointed he stumbled, McConnell still smiled as he recounted his race.

“I think I ran close to my fastest time for the year,” he said.

About 140 runners and walkers competed in Captain Cook Caper Run, part of the 40th annual Waimea Town Celebration. Eighty-five finished the 5K, while 40 did the 10K and 17 joined the 2K.

Conditions for the 7 a.m. starting time were cool and cloudy, ideal for fast times on the flat course. Runners were bused to the starting lines on Kaumualii Highway and finished back at the Waimea Plantation Cottages.

Kauai’s Basil Scott won the 10K overall in 41 minutes, 54 seconds, while Leigh Hicks of Kapaa led the women in 45:22. Both won easily.

A Kilauea couple led the 5K. James Rogers led the men in 18:26, well out in front of the field, while Casey Chibirka won the women’s race in 22:43, thanks to a big kick as she edged Martine Twist, also clocked in 22:43.

Race organizer Victor Aguilar was worried several days prior to the race, when only 29 people had registered online. But many signed up Friday and a few more Saturday morning.

The race benefits Waimea High School’s JROTC program, and many of Aguilar’s JROTC students manned water stations and set up cones.

“It turned out really well,” Aguilar said.

The race was a family affair for the Martins of Waimea Valley. Dad Keoni, mom Kalae, son Kalawaia, 9, daughter Titi, 7, and even 18-month-old Kawena in a stroller finished the 5K.

It was their first time at the Captain Cook Caper Run, and they enjoyed it. Dad ran with son, while mom ran with one daughter while pushing the other. Titi finished with a furious sprint.

“I like to really run fast,” she said.

Kalae said she had to encourage Titi quite a bit.

“She wanted to give up 100 times, but I was able to motivate her; we were always talking,” she said.

Eric Lazar charged through the 2K course in the wheelchair division, finishing in 17:33.

“Beautiful day, we’re here in Waimea,” he said as he relaxed later. “I wanted to beat the 5K guys in and got them by a minute.”

Pastor Darryl Kua of Westside Christian Center Church walked the 5K with some of the 15 people from the church who turned out for the Caper Run.

He said races like this one encourage physical fitness and develop unity and growth.

“I love it. I love hanging out with our youth, walking and visiting, establishing relationships with them and just to be there to help encourage and offer them hope,” he said.

For the serious runners, the race was a chance to test their speed and sharpen for the upcoming race season.

“I didn’t really expect to be the first woman,” said Hicks, who has a previous victory at the Captain Cook Caper Run. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

Scott pretty much led from start to finish, each mile faster than the previous one, to average 6:45 per mile.

“Everything felt good today,” he said. “For a 61-year-old guy, nothing hurts, that’s always a bonus.”

The win, he said, was nice, but “felt weird.”

“You expect some young guy who shows up and burns out but nobody was there,” Scott said. “Getting older, you don’t win very many races, so when it happens, it’s kind of fun.”

Rogers went out too slow, he said, so he tried to pick up the pace, which he did and cruised to the win.

“When I finished I wasn’t happy with the time, but I went into it as more of training run,” he said.

Chibirka had a battle on her hands.

She shared the lead early with Amy Smith, who tossed in some surges, before Twist passed them both in the final quarter mile.

Rogers, who operates Kauai Running Company and helps coach runners at Kapaa High School, yelled at Chibirka to kick.

“I knew she didn’t know how long she had to go, so I got my coach voice on and started screaming for her,” he said. “She sprinted to the finish passed the girl and won.”

Chibirka was determined to come back after being passed and claimed her first road race victory.

“It felt really good,” she said.

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