KAILUA-KONA — Alika Ho’omana has a story as unique as his tattoos.
Versed in Hawaiian culture, those distinct designs tell a part of his tale. Not all, but a sliver of it.
“That’s the gist,” Ho’omana — stout, lean and strong — said after explaining a crash-course version on what his head-to-toe art means.
Polynesian-style tattooing isn’t simple, you see. Every culture has its own distinct patterns, and when artists layer those patterns upon other patterns, tilting each angle here and there, new meaning is created for the warrior who wears them.
But a crash-course understanding tells a lot, too.
The rows of teeth inking up his right arm beginning at his hand represent mano keo, the white shark. It’s the aumakua of his mother’s side of the family. It crosses his shoulder and connects with the left side where it transforms into the deified animal guardian of his father’s side of the family, the pueo, the owl.
And etched on his head is the meaning of his son’s middle name.
If it were that simple.
“That’s the ballpark, short answer,” Ho’omana, the soft spoken father of two, said.
Ho’omana has dabbled in tattooing himself but that’s not his profession. He’s an athletic trainer, although there’s more to that journey, too, of course. But even the CliffsNotes version provides a remarkable snapshot.
FROM HEAVY TO HEALTHY
Ho’omana used to be heavy. Heavy, heavy. Two hundred and sixty five pounds packed on his 5-foot 7-inch frame were the old measurements, according to his online profile, not to mention those who knew him way back when.
“I was a big boy,” the now-svelte 160-pounder said.
A disciplined hula dancer and high school athlete, Ho’omana’s weight got away from him after he graduated from high school and taught hula for three months at a time in Japan — where Yoshinoya beef bowls reigned supreme.
Omorii style, extra large.
“I remember those trips to Japan,” said Ho’omana’s cousin, lifelong friend, and back-in-the-day drinking buddy Mahea Akau. “How can you not eat? The food is amazing.”
Today, Akau is partnering with Ho’omana organizing a women-only fun run in the Old Kona Industrial Area in May. The theme is to encourage and empower healthier choices one step at a time, which is what Ho’omana ended up accomplishing.
But more on the race later.
It was after he returned from Japan in the early 200os that Ho’omana decided to turn his life around. The initial spark to change happened when he attended the pre-race banquet for the Ironman World Championships in Kona where athletes shared their inspirational journeys.
Then, a few years after the banquet, he saw a picture of another one of his cousins, Che Pilago, smiling in celebration at the finish line of the 140.6-mile race.
Pilago, of all people?
He wasn’t a braggart, rather a jokster. Legend goes he took a cigarette break during the bicycle portion of the race and drank two beers at OTEC during the run. Yet, there he was in the photo.
“That definitely inspired me,” Ho’omana said.
Fast forward, and Ho’omana would go on to finish the Kona Ironman in 2012 after four years of participating in the half Ironman, the Honu.
After that, he became a representative and trainer for Progenex and BioAstin, as well as a certified CrossFit instructor. He also ran across the United States of America — 3,550 miles over 72 days with famed triathlete Jason Lester from Los Angeles to New York City. Ho’omana joined the trek in Denver and helped raise $20,000 for families affected by Hurricane Sandy. And he started his own business.
That’s the short version.
CREATING A TEAM
But it’s the latter of the accomplishments, Ho’omana Strength &Conditioning, that he’s most proud.
With a steady clientele numbered around 30, he teaches classes three days a week at Old Kona Airport Park, incorporating functional fitness and cross-training that mixes all of Ho’omana’s worlds.
Some days the sessions can be run heavy. Or, the hour-long classes feature muscle-building though body-weight movements. Sometimes, though, old-fashioned CrossFit equipment comes out to get the heart pumping — Airdyne bikes, rowers, kettle bells and medicine balls.
At the core of the classes is inspiration through community. Gains are achieved through exercise, but motivation is fueled by feeling part of a pack.
“It’s a dance party half the time,” said Rebekah Lussiaa, former Kealakehe High School athletic trainer, runner, paddler, and triathlon racer. “It’s hard to put words on it because it’s more of a feeling.”
Yet they still get after it.
Lussiaa, with years of racing pelts to her credit including today’s Lavaman, said using the class as a foundation for the last two years has helped her get into the best shape of her life. She’s seen classmates change emotionally as well as physically — dropping 70 pounds in one case.
But, she added, she’s also become part of a family, a sisterhood her paddling circles used to fulfill.
“Everyone that I’ve told,” she said, “they wish they would have started and done it earlier.”
Amanda Platter is a part of the ohana, running, pushing and sweating under the sun in the Old Airport grass.
A licensed psychologist, she knows all about the value of human interaction, a benefit the classes provide in addition to the pure endorphin rush.
A huge factor in a person’s mental health and well-being is whether they regularly socialize and feel a part of their fellow man.
Social anxieties are more common than many realize, even for those who appear to be assertive or confident. It’s the No. 1 reason people come to therapy, in search of being understood, and the No. 1 treatment for depression remains socialization.
Yet, knowing all this, Platter can still be bewildered watching it all work on her.
“I’ve really been amazed, even with my understanding of that, how I’ll go into class in kind of a bad mood — not really wanting to talk to anybody — and I’m reminded almost right away,” she said. “Before I know it, there’s this energy there that I didn’t know was there. Sometimes it’s shifted me weeks on end on a real high.”
INSPIRATION, ONE STEP AT A TIME
It was that feeling of motivation through camaraderie that resonated with Ho’omana most during his Ironman experience.
As people followed his training online, his celebrity grew. By race day, scores of well-wishers had come out to cheer him, a local, and asked him to pose in pictures. He had hundreds of messages after he finished. It took him two months to respond to every one.
“But I did,” he said.
Fast forward to Saturday, May 18, and Ho’omana and Akau will be hosting the Bloom – Beauty in Motion 5k run. The ladies-only race takes off from the K-Mart parking lot at 6 p.m. and a post-race concert with Sammy Johnson follows.
They’re using the inaugural race as an opportunity to raise awareness and educate women — guys can volunteer, cheer and support — on various health issues and services available to them in their communities.
One step at a time.
“I just see too many of my family make the bad choices and they’re no longer here,” Akau said. “So we’re just trying to shift that mentality, change that conversation, get them inspired to take that first step, just like Alika did.”
Akau works for Ironman and it was she who got Ho’omana the job of drawing all the cultural designs for the World Championship merchandise that led to Ho’omana attending the pre-race banquet that provided the initial spark.
Yes, that’s part of his story, too. All the posters that adorned the town every year? For years those were his Polynesian designs enhancing them.
But that part of the story is miles in the rear view. It’s the future he’s focused on now: If he can, anyone can, and no first step is to small.
“He’s given me my me back again and it’s fantastic,” said Megan O’Hanlon.
O’Hanlon, the classmate to whom Lussiaa referenced, lost 70 pounds in the two and a half years she’s been a member. She remembers her first day, intimidated initially, although it wasn’t long before that vanished.
In no time, she was part of the group.
“It’s fantastic recognizing myself in the mirror again,” she said.
And, if the road unfolds from here like it’s supposed to, there should be more.
“I feel like he’s just getting started because he has such an awesome story to share,” Akau said, reflecting on Ho’omana’s journey, and all that’s ahead. “He still has a lot of inspiring to do.”
Registration and race information at www.onokona.com.