Slowly, one hand and one foot after another, Connor Marovish used the rope to pull himself up the steep climb that was part of the Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run Saturday morning.
When he reached the top, the 11-year-old paused briefly on the muddy path.
“It’s hard and tiring but I’m going to make it,” he said as he moved away.
Such was the sentiment of many of the estimated 1,000 who participated in the fourth annual event on lush, green private lands of the Knudsen Trust.
From excited keiki to weary kupuna, they ran, walked, crawled, climbed and slid on their butts through 10K and 5K courses. Some brief but strong downpours turned sections of Kahili Mountain into slippery slopes on a cool and cloudy morning.
But no one was complaining. Instead, all were having a good time, getting dirty, falling down at times, getting up, enjoying spectacular scenery and helping each other complete the journey.
There was plenty of sweat and laughter, too, from the crowd of locals and visitors, with runners from Australia, Colorado and Alabama.
Greg Batalucco of Koloa encouraged his son Chase, 6, as they walked and ran in the early miles. It was their first time at the Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run and both were feeling good.
“We just wanted to help out,” said Greg Batalucco, who had an older son running ahead of him. “It’s good for the kids.”
The run was a fundraiser for a youth sports program led by Aaron Hoff, also the founder of this race that has already become popular on Kauai and received strong support.
Hoff leads a team of CrossFit coaches at the Southside Sports Center in Koloa to teach keiki about health, fitness and nutrition.
The year-round program sees about 50 keiki daily as they exercise, talk story and hang out with mentors.
The idea is to give them a positive direction and create opportunities for activities that keep them away from drugs and alcohol.
Hoff, raised on Kauai, said he battled substance abuse in his youth and fought off suicidal thoughts. He overcame through faith and a renewed focus on physical and mental fitness.
The trail run is his way of raising awareness and finding answers.
“You need to understand that what you guys are doing right now, you’re standing on the front lines of one of the worst epidemics on the island,” Hoff said to the crowd before the races started. “It’s a drug and alcohol problem I’ve witnessed over the past 20 years kill so many kids and hurt so many families.”
“This run was built on suffering I’ve witnessed over the years,” he added. “We’re all coming together as a solution — you guys are becoming part of a solution that works.”
Wyley Schimmelfennig, a volunteer on the course, said Hoff has made a big difference in his life.
“I’m here because I’ve dealt with addiction my whole life. I didn’t have programs like this when I grew up,” he said. “I went down the wrong path, started from a young age doing drugs, drinking a lot, stealing, went to jail. Through the help of Aaron Hoff, what he’s done, he’s turned my life around. He showed me a better way of living. He showed me that sobriety can be fun by doing fitness.”
Schimmelfennig said being at the sports center gives youth options “to hopefully not go down the same paths we have.”
Many youth showed up Saturday.
Sisters Kylia and Kiyara Bell-Kamou of Kapahi stuck together, holding hands at times, as they ran, walked for short stretches to recover, than ran again.
Kiyara, smiling, was having fun despite not feeling 100 percent.
“Our mom is into fitness and she wanted us to do this,” Kylia said.
So what did they think?
“It’s pretty fun,” Kylia said.
Some keiki charged along alone, fueled by volunteers, fellow participants and their own enthusiasm.
A muddy Jayden Mongeo, 10, of Kalaheo said climbing the steep stretches, using ropes, was the hardest part. But he was proud to push through.
“I’m glad to be here, I’m glad I’m doing it,” he said.
Ty Clark, 11, crested a high point on the mountain course just as rain resumed. The son of Nic Clark, winner of the 10K, didn’t mind at all.
“I’m loving it,” he said.
Joseph Pasadava, 16, was equally happy as he walked/jogged his way toward the final gauntlet that required everyone to navigate over a maze of obstacles that included boulders, tires and board walls, jump over ditches, crawl under netting and run through a mudpit.
“It’s awesome to be out here. It’s a blessing, too,” he said.
The best part?
“When I finish,” he said.
Juan Carlos, a keiki coach at the sports center, was offering high fives, cheers and smiles as people made the push toward the end.
“It’s amazing, the fact that all these people come out to support our program is just incredible,” he said. “Especially for me being a coach for the kids, I get to see their faces and help them through adversity and teach them things. It blows me away to have this much support from all over the world.”