Runnin’ with Rani: Catching up with runner Bree Brown on sports, school and COVID-19

  • Bree Brown says she's ready to return to school and believes students need schools to reopen for more than just academics — but for their social, emotional, and physical wellbeing. (Kawika Singson/Courtesy Photo)

  • Kailua-Kona's Bree Brown is a fourth-grade teacher at Kahakai Elementary School and a two-time Hawaii HURT 100-mile trail race finisher. (HURT 100/Courtesy Photo)

The last time I interviewed Bree Brown was just after she won the all-women’s Heart &Trails 10-miler in February held at the beautiful Makani Golf Club.

The victory was a sweet one. A day to celebrate a year of recovery from a broken leg and her third big race of the 2020 year after winning January’s Hilo to Volcano 50K Ultra Marathon and finishing her second HURT 100-mile trail race on Oahu.

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Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction with more races planned, more exotic running trails to explore, and more family time with her son, Kainoa, with spring break just around the corner. But then COVID-19 hit the Hawaiian Islands.

Brown, who is a fourth grade teacher at Kahakai Elementary School, is now back in the classroom preparing for the start of a new school year and what a new normal will look like for returning students. Her days are busy, but luckily, I was able to catch her between two faculty meetings as she shared her thoughts on sports, school and COVID.

Q: With the sports calendar completely void of races since mid-March, how have you kept yourself motivated and healthy?

I have an amazing group of friends and we try to get together every other week to plan some kind of adventure run. We are doing eight to 10-hour adventure days that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to do, so I’m really fortunate to have that.

With not having school or sports for our children, like Kainoa is not at swim practice right now, I’ve been able to take a walk with him every day at sunset. I’m having more bonding time with my own son, so just trying to incorporate more family time. We been snorkeling with my sister and her kids and it’s been very unstructured, but I’m loving it.

Q: As a parent and a teacher, you understand the many concerns circulating in the community in terms of how and when schools should reopen. What keeps you up at night?

Just knowing that there are children who need to be in school for more than the academic reasons. It breaks my heart knowing some of the situations each child is having to go through — like watching their parents struggle to pay bills to make ends meet, or to have food — my heart hurts for them.

Everyone’s stress level is completely maxed out and I know the kids are taking it hard. School is a safe place for a lot of these kids and for a lot of them, it’s their one hot meal a day. School is the place where there is someone to say, “I love you,” or “I care,” or a friend to play with as maybe they don’t get that at home. While it may not be the case for all children, for those that it is the case, I really feel for them.

Q: For students and parents who are unsure of what to expect when they return to school, what advice can you offer?

I would say to just stay flexible and at the end of the day, don’t point any fingers. Right now, a lot of people are asking the teachers and hoping we have the answers, but we don’t have all the answers. There are people, higher powers above us, who are making these decisions for us, and I don’t know if everyone understands that.

Q: With having no sporting events calendared in the near future, how does it affect your race goals?

I really only had my focus on HURT 100 on January 2021, which has been canceled. All the other races were just for a chance to hang out with my friends. Because I work so much and I have family, pretty much my only social life are the races so I miss the races for that. A lot of my friends are race directors, or they have something to do with the race by supporting it or sponsoring it, so I’m seeing how they are being financially affected and I hurt for them. I don’t hurt so much for missing a race, I hurt more for the people that was their livelihood to put on the races.

Q: What will be your hope in the coming months in terms of school, sports and COVID?

I’m really hoping that we can return to school full-time, and if not full-time, at least as a hybrid schedule. But I want to see kids back in school, I’m actually pushing for the opening of schools. Maybe my thoughts would be different if we lived somewhere else, but because the Big Island seems to have a good grasp on it and being really smart about it, I would like to see things happen here. I know it’s hard to say this when the mainland and Oahu is having it much worse, but I want schools to open here.

For sports, I think there are people who are trying to keep them going and for those who are terrified, they are staying home. If they know they have a compromised immune system, they are watching out for themselves which I think is really kind because for those who are healthier, they will still able to participate in the runs or sport.

And for COVID, it’s been really frustrating. Don’t we all just want to wake up and it’s gone?

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Q: Any last thoughts?

I really just miss school and I think a lot of people do. I think right now it’s showing more than ever how important school is. Not just for academics, but parents rely on schools so they can work. Teachers are craving to get back into the classrooms because they miss it, it’s their sense of purpose. Now we wake up and think, “What’s my purpose today?” Everyone relies on school.

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