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Runnin’ with Rani: Youth dominate at Kona’s grass roots of triathlon

Updated: 
October 27, 2017 - 12:05am

It’s hard to imagine that Sunday’s Post Ironman Sprint Triathlon celebrated Carl “Gecko” Koomoa’s 25th anniversary of hosting Team Mango Racing events.

Koomoa, who is a former professional Alpine downhill skier and 10-time Ironman World Championship finisher, recalled organizing his first triathlon event as if it were yesterday while gazing out toward a relatively calm Kailua Bay amidst a brilliant sunrise emerging from behind Hualalai Mountain.

“I believe the first event we had was on Nov. 14, 1992,” Koomoa said. “It was the Pre-Ironman triathlon racecourse, so a 1.2-mile swim and 6-mile run, with the exception that the bike course would go all the way up to Paul’s Place in Holualoa. But then things began to get a little crazy with people wanting to go bombing back down the hill with their bikes and so (for safety reasons) we changed the course to the three laps around town that it is today. I won’t forget that Peaman won the first race.”

Back then the event was actually named the Mountain Triathlon Challenge due to the vigorous bike segment that challenged participants on their climb up to Holualoa Village. Peaman dominated the field with his time of 1 hour, 47 minutes and 55 seconds, while Kona’s Linda Jane Kelly claimed the women’s title with her time of 2:18:30.

Soon, Koomoa expanded his Team Mango Race series with over a dozen events that included the Post Ironman Sprint Triathlon and more recently, the Morning After Triathlon that is held the day after the Ironman World Championships.

While the majority of the participants who turned out for Sunday’s fun sprint distance of a quarter-mile swim, 10-mile bike and 2-mile run weren’t even born during the first 7 to 8 years of Team Mango Racing events, Koomoa’s reputation of hosting some of the most unique, challenging and competitive triathlons in the circuit were reflected with a large turnout of young triathletes.

“One of the reasons why we had such a great turnout today was because of Josiah Randerson,” he said. “He recruited a bunch of high schoolers and they were all so “gung ho.” But they are our future and this is what it’s all about - getting them out and doing something fun.”

One of these so-called “high schoolers” who has excelled in triathlon over the last few years was the defending champion, Malcolm Davis.

Davis, who is a senior at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, recently returned from a whirlwind summer of racing in five triathlon events in Europe. His most notable results were seen at June’s Kitzbuhel ETU Triathlon European Championships in Austria (fifth place), Bled ETU Triathlon Junior European Cup in Slovenia (39th place), and September’s ITU World Triathlon Grand Final Rotterdam in Holland (eighth place).

“Over the summer I traveled to Slovenia in June and stayed with a national team for about a month to train with them and compete,” Davis said. “It was probably one of the best months of my life. I was all by myself and I didn’t know anyone. The first day that I touched down, I probably hadn’t slept in two days and the coach took me straight to the lake for a swim. Then later that day I followed up with a bike and run and there was a thunderstorm and I thought, wow, this is way over my head. But then I got to my home that night and crashed. Looking back, that whole experience has been one of my most memorable moments in triathlon.”

“Then last month I traveled to the Netherlands where I represented the U.S. in the World Championship Age Group and I placed eighth out of 30. It was an Olympic Distance and I felt happy as my run improved a lot,” Davis added.

While it might seem that Davis’ dominance in triathlon came out of nowhere, the 17-year old said that his inspiration toward his triathlon pursuits began with Gerry Rott’s LavaKids Triathlon.

“My first full Lavaman (Olympic Distance Triathlon) was age 14, but I first began by doing LavaKids,” Davis said. “It was the last year that they offered the bike segment in what has now become a swim-run (Aquathon), and I just loved it. Since then I’ve competed in four Lavaman triathlons and I really like how family friendly it is, super inviting, and it’s such a beautiful race.”

The Race

Once again all eyes were fixated on our Big Island Youth who were front and center, ready to battle it out at Sunday’s Post Ironman Sprint Triathlon.

As the race started, Davis wasted no time in propelling himself to the front of the two-lap swim, with Aiden Ankrum using everything he had to hang onto his draft.

After Davis ran up the beach to touch the seawall for the first lap, it was obvious that Ankrum and newcomer, Gabriel Low, would be the only two to keep in contact as a large gap had formed from the rest of the field.

Davis finally exited the swim with a blazing time of 3 minutes and 54 seconds; with Aiden a few strides back in 4:01, and Low in third at 4:30.

However, it would be Randerson charging onto the bike course in first after tagging swim relay partner Ankrum. Randerson, who underwent months of rehab to heal a broken collarbone that he suffered during May’s Memorial Day weekend, is now able to bike and run but has not been cleared to start swimming yet.

“As soon as I saw Josiah leave on the bike I thought to myself, I really gotta get past him,” Davis said. “But then he got stuck behind a car and that’s when I passed him back. We are really great friends but also very competitive as we are the two fastest juniors on the island. So it’s really good to have the camaraderie and competition.”

From there, Davis held the overall lead for the remaining 10-mile bike segment and 2-mile run to defend his title in a time of 44:28 — knocking a whopping 1:19 off from his winning time last year.

“I didn’t really have a plan but I was really excited to have my tri-club here with me today,” Davis said. “I felt really strong even if I had my BIIF cross-country meet yesterday. I did pretty good and happy with my finish as I was in the top twenty and my team won the Division II title. Now we are onto to States next weekend.”

Finishing strong in second place and new to the race scene was 16-year old Gabriel Low with his time of 45:45. While 14-year old Kaiden Lieto improved upon his time from last year to nab the third spot in 50:23.

Low, who resides in Hilo with his family and is on the swim and cross-country team at Waiakea High School, said that he heard about Koomoa’s Sprint Tri the day before from a Hilo fireman who also competes in triathlons.

“My dad was like, ‘I’ll drive you over, don’t worry,’” Low said with a laugh. “I’ve had a hard time finding triathlon groups in Hilo as Hilo really doesn’t have much. But I thought that the best way to get into it is just to come and race. I really had no clue of the course beforehand, but it was great. I had a real good time with these two guys up in front (Davis, and Randerson), in fact, they were really challenging me.”

Like Davis, Low also has some international triathlon racing experience as he recently returned from a one-year exchange program in Columbia.

“I did a one year exchange through the Rotary Exchange Program in Columbia,” Low said. “While there, one of my friends invited me to do a triathlon but I’ve never done a triathlon before. I biked and was a runner and played soccer, but never swam before. And my best friend there also happened to be one of the top triathletes in the country so our training schedule was crazy. We were working out four hours per day — like waking up at 4 a.m. go biking followed by two hours in the afternoon of swimming.”

Low said that he instantly fell in love with triathlon and believes that it changed his life for the better. As for Low’s future in triathlon — get to know his name well as you can be sure to see his name at the top or near the top at local racing events.

“I’m definitely looking forward to the next race and hopefully I can find a way to train in Hilo,” Low said. “But I’m on the waitlist for both the (Tri)ptophan and Lavaman triathlons so we’ll just have to see.”

On the women’s side, Midge Kerr dominated with her winning time of 52:11, with the next two spots going to Ada Benson (1:01:05) and a finned Lori Montgomery (1:01:54) respectively.

Kerr, a two-time Ironman World Championship finisher (2014, 2016) who splits time between Kona and Avalon, New Jersey, said that she heard about Team Mango Racing events when she and her husband were in town back in February.

“I came down to watch the Mini Monster and I just loved the whole idea of it, and being able to meet the local people living here,” the 53-year old said. “So I marked my calendar knowing we would be back at this time to give it a try.”

While Kerr admitted that it’s been some time since she last competed in an “all out” sprint triathlon due to competing in the longer ironman distance events, Kerr appreciated the laid-back vibe of Koomoa’s event.

“This event is all about grassroots, community racing, and something fun that everyone should do who is on this island.”

As for Davis, Low, Randerson, and the rest of Big Island’s youth who turned out for Sunday’s Post Ironman Sprint Triathlon, one thing’s for sure — there is absolutely no limit to what they set their hearts and minds to.

“I’m trying to figure out right now if I’m fast enough, speed-wise, to go into ITU (International Triathlon Union) racing,” Davis said. “If not, I’d love to go into the half iron or Ironman distance.

And when Davis was asked if he had a role model that he looks up to in the sport, like Jan Frodeno, Sebastian Kienle, or Chris Lieto, without hesitation he replied; “I actually look up to one of our local heroes, Dan Gampon. Just watching him come out of high school then doing Ironman and how well he has progressed since has been very inspirational for me.”

Coming up

Saturday: The 11th annual Run for the Dry Forest 10K, 5K trail run/walk & Keiki runs will be held at Puuwaawa at 7:30 a.m. The event supports conservation and restoration of Dry Forests in Hawaii. For more information and to register online visit pathhawaii.org.

Saturday: Kuleana Education Academy will host the inaugural Monster Dash 5K at the Old Airport State Recreation Area. Start time for the muddy obstacle course is 7 a.m. The event will have prizes, food, beverages and music. For more information and registration details contact Dana Kern at 987-3853.

Sunday: Big Island Bike Tours presents the Waimea Bike Fest at the Anna Ranch Heritage Center, Waimea. Start time is 9 a.m. for the free event that includes Strider Keiki Races (ages 2-12), Keiki Exploration Bike Ride, PATH Bike Rodeo, LavaKids Trail Run, and a Halloween Pumpkin Hunt. Parents are encouraged to register their kids early via the website lavakids.org.

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