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Kona Marathon: Race gives diverse field a reason to run

June 25, 2014 - 11:06am

More than 1,500 participants completed a race in the Kona Marathon presented by UCC Coffee on Sunday, whether it be the marathon, half marathon, 10K or 5K.

For some, it was a chance to chase a personal-best time; for others, the draw was more meaningful — as it offered the opportunity to raise money and awareness for a cause; for a few, it provided the culmination of a dream begun years earlier; and for many, the chance to run in a tropical paradise was just too much to resist.

A look at some of Sunday’s competitors along with why they took part in the race:

Walk for Kamu

Kamu Plunkett, 37, Kailua-Kona: Plunkett is used to clocking a much faster pace when he competes in races, but after suffering a heart attack during a Peaman event in January, he was just happy to be back on a course.

Plunkett doesn’t remember anything about the heart attack, the three days preceding it or the week following it. But he won’t soon forget Sunday’s Kona Marathon.

That’s because friends and family members joined him in the 5K event to form a 35-member team that raised $3,500 to help with his medical bills, which are approaching $200,000.

“How many walkers did we have for Kamu? I think everyone out here today was here for Kamu,” said James Resor of Keauhou Shopping Center, who helped organize the benefit walk.

“From my family and friends, KAPA, Lex Brodie’s, Keauhou, the hotel here at Sheraton — everybody helped me out,” Plunkett said. “It was good. In Hawaii, our community, we all stand together.”

Plunkett has returned to work, but said outside of that, his daily routine consists of “rehab (and) sleep, pretty much.” He doesn’t expect it to remain that way, however, as he has already signed up for next year’s Lavaman event.

“I’ll be doing that, guaranteed,” he said.

Team Challenge raises funds

Team Challenge, multiple ages, multiple locations: While the group, which benefits the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, is headquartered in New York, it had 40 competitors from 10 states in Sunday’s half marathon.

“Team Challenge is the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s endurance training program,” said Cindie Barbera, Team Challenge national manager. “We train participants to do half marathons — like the Kona, Hawaii, half marathon — triathlons and cycling events. While they’re training, they’re also fundraising for our cause.”

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are inflammatory bowel diseases, which affect an estimated 1.4 million people. No cure has been found and the effectiveness of medications vary from patient to patient.

Barbera said that Team Challenge raised $180,000 with Sunday’s event.

“The money goes toward research for a cure, toward patient education, toward sending young children with IBD to specialized camps and lots of great resources for our patients,” said Barbera, who lives in San Diego. “We have about 15 different events throughout the year and Kona is one of our premier events.”

Team Challenge plays a big role in the foundation, which has had a major impact on the search for a cure.

“Our foundation has given $2 million to research alone and we’ve been part of every scientific breakthrough for Crohn’s and colitis,” Barbera said.

Marathon Goddess returns to Kona

Julie Weiss, 44, Santa Monica, California: The “Marathon Goddess” was back in Kona, where she ran in 2012 as part of her 52-marathons-in-52-weeks challenge to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer and money to find a cure.

“The Kona Marathon is so special to me,” she said. “The people, the aloha spirit here is so beautiful.”

Weiss lost her father to pancreatic cancer, which started her on her quest. After completing her 52nd marathon in 52 weeks, she has slowed down a bit — she ran the half marathon this time instead of the full, 26.2-mile course — but is as enthusiastic as ever.

She has joined forces with the Lazarex Cancer Foundation and Team for Life.

“So many people who have this disease don’t even have a fighting chance,” she said. “With this charity it really gives them hope. When they’re out of hope, they’re out of money, Team for Life steps in, gives them money and they get to these clinical trials. All of the (administrative) costs are paid by the founder, so all of the money that I’m raising now through goes directly to these patients.”

Ward wraps up 50 state journey

Jeffrey Ward, 39, Pittsburgh: The Kona Marathon was a long time coming for Ward. In fact, he’s not even sure exactly how long he has been on his quest to run 50 marathons in 50 states, just that it’s been “12 or 14 years.”

For Ward, the race will be memorable for more than just marking the final one in his quest.

“It was beautiful,” he said. “You can’t beat running along the ocean there. It was awesome.”

Ward was one of five members of the 50 States Marathon Club looking to finish his quest in Kailua-Kona on Sunday. Of those 50, there are a few that stand out in his mind.

“My first one — I’m from Pittsburgh, the first one was that, because I didn’t think I was going to finish and it was cool to see that,” he said. “I’ve run the San Francisco Marathon and run over the San Francisco bridge. I’ve been to Anchorage, Alaska, and seen a mama moose and her calf on the course. The running itself is secondary to the sights that I see.”

Immediately after the race, Ward wasn’t sure what his next quest would be, only that he would keep running and that he was glad to have finished his journey.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I’m happy. Relieved. … I’m just excited to have it done.”

Australia’s Moir makes time

Scott Moir, 25, Wellstead, Australia: For Moir, competing in the Kona Marathon was simply a matter of fortunate circumstances.

“We’re on holiday and happened to be in Hawaii at the right time,” he said after completing the full marathon. “Made time to come over here and run the race.”

The Kailua-Kona event is the second marathon Moir has completed.

“It was awesome,” he said. “Very hard, though. Very hot. Good race.”

Australia has a reputation as a hot and unforgiving land, but Moir, whose home is near Perth, on the western side of the continent, said that the heat of the Kona Marathon was actually harder for him to handle.

“The marathon that I ran at home, it doesn’t heat up until after I’d finished,” he said. “This is a real humid … the humidity is not very friendly.”

The scenery was well worth it, however.

“Especially from town back to here, it was really pretty,” Moir said at the finish line.

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