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Matt Lieto, Kinsey Laine go wire-to-wire for Lavaman Waikoloa wins

Updated: 
April 11, 2016 - 1:18pm

WAIKOLOA — Being less of a man is working out for Matt Lieto.

Sitting on a plane more than 15 years ago, a 250-pound Lieto made a choice to get healthy. The catalyst? A trip to the Big Island to watch his brother compete in the IRONMAN World Championship.

These days, the airplane seat is a little less snug, and the only thing getting beefier is his racing resume.

Lieto went wire-to-wire for gold at his Lavaman Waikoloa debut on Sunday, blazing through the Olympic-distance (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) course in 1 hour 54 minutes and 24 seconds.

“I went back home after my brother’s race and decided to change my life,” said Lieto, now a well-recognized professional triathlete and coach. “Fast forward and I’m back here winning a race on this island. It’s pretty cool.”

Defending Lavaman champion Ben Williams (1:56:24) settled for second, edging third place finisher Shawn Wilyman (1:56:19) by just one second. Chris Gregory, of Hilo, was the top Big Islander, completing the course in 1:58:21.

“I had the best race I was going to have,” Williams said. “I felt great and pushed myself. Matt is a really fast athlete and he killed it today.”

Lieto led out of the water and his lead was never threatened. Instead, it became a race against the clock, trying to beat the time of a former Lavaman champ — his brother, Chris Lieto, who won the event in 2013.

He came close, barely missing his older brother’s time of 1:53:55.

“It’s a really fun race. We have chatted about the course a bunch in the past,” Matt Lieto said. “I think it’s one of the few we both have our name on.”

Lieto — who describes himself as a “poorfesional triathlete” — now makes a living doing what he loves, and hopes his story can inspire someone along the way.

“I like to encourage others to never put a ceiling on what they are capable of. That’s why I still do this,” he said. “It’s not a huge money maker, but I like to spread the word that if you set your mind to something, you can do it.”

One of his pupils obviously took that advice to heart.

Kinsey Laine — who Lieto coaches — took home top honors in the female field, finishing the triathlon in 2:11:03. Laine improved on her third place finish in 2014.

Age-group athletes Kathy Winkler (2:18:45) followed in second, with Shannon Fore (2:20:09) in third.

A former college swimmer — and now a coach — Laine used the morning dip in Anaehoomalu bay to get some early space.

“I think having it as my strong suit freaks some people out,” she said.

But then came the 40K bike on Queen Kaahumanu Highway, which Laine circled as the weakest part of her triathlon skill set. That is mostly because the roads in her hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska can be used for training less than half the year.

“I train on an indoor bike a lot, so I have the athletic endurance, but not the technical skills. We went on a ride yesterday and it helped a lot,” Laine said. “Matt reminded me that I’m better than I give myself credit for. He told me I’m strong and able to do this.”

With a nice lead, Laine didn’t need to sprint on the final stretch of sand to the finish line. But if she had to, she would have been well prepared.

“After the last few fresh snow dumps I went out and ran — imaging that finish line in the sand,” she laughed, citing some similarities. “It’s hot out here though! A little warmer than Fairbanks right now.”

Next year’s Lavaman is scheduled for April 2, 2017.

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