LIHUE — It took a while for Kaeo Kruse to settle into life on the East Coast.
But he eventually found his stride, as he’s always done on the dirt roads, grass fields and running tracks.
“The biggest adjustment wasn’t going to the East Coast. When I’m away from home, I’m away from home,” Kruse said Friday. “If it’s 50,000 miles or whatever, it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m away from home. I think the biggest thing to get used to was training and school.”
Kruse, a Kalaheo native and Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama alumnus, is a two-time Hawaii High School Athletics Association boys cross country individual state champion and is a state record-holder.
He’s also an HHSAA state track and field record-holder in the boys 1,500-meter run and boys 3,000 meter run events.
In 2016, he was inducted in the HHSAA Hall of Honor.
“I’m really happy with it, honestly,” he said of his high school career. “I did the best that I could, in terms of supporting the team and getting enough points for them. I’d say the only thing that, when looking back and wish I could change, is my junior year at track states.
“I got the flu two weeks before the (Interscholastic League of Honolulu) championships, but I still won that. Going to states, I still had it and it was pretty bad. I got in my head about it, and then I lost the 1,500 state title to this dude from Waiakea who I definitely could have beat. … Other than that, I’m pretty happy with it.”
He said while at first he liked swimming, and even swam for local youth club Swim Kauai Aquatics, he naturally gravitated toward running, just like his parents, George and Pam.
“My mom’s a triathlete, and my dad ran. He used to be a football and baseball player. But when I was a kid, he ran, too. Just not triathlons,” he said. “My dad used to run with me in the stroller. My mom used to just train, so that’s how I started — just joining them.”
While he now is glad to have made the move to Honolulu as a youngster, he didn’t want to move off-island then.
“I really didn’t want to go. They were like, ‘Just take the test. If you get in, you don’t have to go.’ But then I got in, and they were like, ‘Oh, you have to go,’” Kruse said. “I was really bummed because all my friends and stuff were here. For sure, it was really hard for me.
“I cried my eyes out for the first couple of months, but then I got used to it — started making friends and that kind of stuff. I’m really glad that they had me go. I don’t regret it at all.”
Kruse is now back home for summer break after his first year of college — at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he runs for the Ivy League school’s cross country and track and field teams.
“I wasn’t looking at the East Coast at all, actually,” he said. “It kind of just came up. They contacted me, and it just snowballed from there. For my family, the most important things were money-wise, ‘Can we afford it?’ And academically. Harvard had both those things in spades.
“When I went up for my official visit, I really liked the guys on the team. The coaches are really cool. I felt like it would be a really good balance between academics and athletics. I also didn’t think I would like the East Coast. But when I went, I really liked it.”
Prior to becoming a Crimson, Kruse was considering a number of institutions.
Among them was the University of Colorado, where Island School alumnus and HHSAA track and field champion Pierce Murphy went after graduating from high school.
“When Pierce was there, they won two straight national championships in cross country,” Kruse said. “They always have All-Americans in track. I think they’re the collegiate program with the most Olympians. They’re very successful.”
Ultimately, Kruse chose Harvard because he couldn’t pass up the academic opportunity. And while Kruse said Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships, he does receive financial aid.
“I really wanted to go there (to Colorado). It was my dream athletics school,” Kruse said. “They offered me some scholarships and stuff. So, I really wanted to go there, but Harvard was just that perfect balance.”
He unfortunately redshirted the outdoor track season because of injury, but did run during the indoor track and cross country seasons.
“I thought it was typical freshman year. A lot of it just getting used to everything,” he said. “I made my goal of being top-5 or top-7 traveling team for cross country, which is good.”
“Indoor was really just getting used to running on that new track,” he continued. “It’s really just getting used to everything. I think in the next coming years is when things are going to start coming together, and things start paying off more. Just got to be patient and keep putting in the work.”
While currently he’s undeclared, he’s considering making his primary concentration human evolutionary biology and his secondary field psychology.
“Obviously, at Harvard it’s very academically rigorous. New school, new system,” he said. “You have to figure out how to get help. … I feel like it took me the whole first semester to really get used to the whole system. I’m getting better.”
He encourages Kauai’s youth to not let the island detract them from pursuing a college athletic career.
“For kids on Kauai, don’t get caught in the mentality to just stay in Hawaii,” he said. “I feel like a lot of kids don’t want to go out to the Mainland or seek the opportunities even though they’re there. I’d say definitely venture out. Even though home’s the best, you can always come back and bring the knowledge you’ve learned with you.”
He concluded: “I’m very thankful for everyone’s support. I couldn’t have done it without my coaches and my teammates, and the community of Kauai.”