POIPU — Aaron Hoff describes the difference between the 5K and the 10K in Saturday’s Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run like this:
“It’s going to be either a really nice hike, or a brutal run.”
At least there’s no doubt about what you’re in for in this fourth annual trail race that promises to be just as challenging, and just as fun, as years past.
There will be climbs so steep you’ll probably have to crawl and use the ropes to pull yourself up. Twists and turns, ups and down, lots of dirt, probably some falls, plenty of perspiration and endless amounts of inspiration.
And, of course, there will be special surprises at the end that could include carrying sandbags, climbing over walls and logs and slogging through thick mud.
Since the course is in pristine areas of Kauai on private lands of the Knudsen Trust family, it’s a surprise each year, created new by Hoff and friends. You won’t find out what awaits until you’re out there.
There may be blood, sweat and tears, but camaraderie will reign.
“When you’re doing a workout that’s tough, it brings people together,” Hoff said. “This molds a community together.”
About 750 people participated last year and 1,000 are expected this year.
This isn’t a race to see who is fastest or fittest.
It’s a fundraiser for Hoff’s youth program at the Southside Sports Center that uses CrossFit coaches to teach keiki about health, fitness and nutrition.
The year-round program sees about 50 keiki daily, ages six to 18. Some are picked up from schools and homes, and they spend time exercising, talking and hanging out with mentors.
Hoff is adamant about giving youth a positive direction and opportunity that keeps them clear of drugs and alcohol.
“Basically, we’re on the front line of the fight against drug addiction,” he said. “We want to fill that gap for kids from after school until their parents come home.”
Hoff, born and raised on Kauai, knows of which he speaks.
He battled addiction as a young man, got into trouble and was suicidal for a time.
“Nobody wanted anything to do with me,” he said.
But Hoff overcame through faith in God and commitment to health and fitness.
He’s been clean and sober for two decades and has devoted his life to helping others get their lives back. He’s seen what can happen otherwise. He has seen the devastation of drug abuse.
“It’s personal for me,” he said. “I’ve literally witnessed so many deaths and drug addictions.”
Hoff is a firm believer that healthy habits must start early in life, which is why he reaches out to help youth and works with families.
He created a safe environment for youth at the sports center that offers them a place to go and prevent them from venturing down the wrong path.
It teaches skills that they can take wherever they go.
The fitness program for keiki is what he calls, “the bridge that gets them through” what can be a perilous time in paradise.
“We found something that works,” he said.
Hoff has plans to expand his youth program with a center in Kekaha and perhaps other Hawaiian islands, too.
“The whole thing is, we’re creating an environment people can thrive in. It’s not just about CrossFit. We’re building a community that flourishes,” he said.
For this year’s Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run, he promises the 10K will be tough, the 5K not so much, with some spectacular views from points on Kahili Mountain.
Hoff, along with help of the Garden Island Motor Cycle Club, cleared the race paths with weedwhackers, chain saws and other tools. They marked the course to keep athletes on track and there will be plenty of volunteers watching after things, too.
Last year, heavy rainfall turned the courses into mud bogs, but this year, conditions are better.
Some top athletes are coming in to compete, put on workshops and training sessions, and work with youth.
To register for the race, go to ultimatehawaiiantrailrun.com, or sign up on race day. It’s free for keiki. There are team and individual categories. The races will start about 8:30 a.m. Turn off to staging area is just off Kaumualii Highway near Omao. Watch for signs.
Hoff said people are coming from around the world to check out the trail run, learn more about the youth program that it supports and find out why it’s grown so in its four years.
“So it’s something special,” he said.