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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Marathon runner's death saddening, puzzling

 •  Special report: 2002 Honolulu Marathon

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

The man who died Sunday after crossing the finish line of the Honolulu Marathon was a young and active athlete competing in the race for the third time, and someone his father described yesterday as "the last person you would worry about."

Grant Hirohata-Goto "would be the last person to worry about," his father said.

Family photo

Grant Hirohata-Goto, 33, was pronounced dead Sunday afternoon at The Queen's Medical Center after he failed to respond to life support treatment at the marathon medical tent next to the finish line at Kapi'olani Park.

An autopsy was being conducted yesterday to determine why a man who was a runner, cyclist, skier, gymnast, weight lifter and the son of one of Honolulu's better known marathon regulars would collapse at the finish line.

"The only point I feel that as a human being he made a mistake was he didn't take a good physical (exam)" before he started running, said his father, Norman Hirohata-Goto. "He did the marathon twice already, and we forgot about it."

Dr. Lewis Maraham, known as the "marathon doc" for his roles as medical director of the New York City event and several others, said yesterday that running is a fundamentally healthy activity, the most popular form of aerobic exercise in the world, and will increase a sedentary person's chances of avoiding heart and other life-threatening problems "by an astronomical percentage."

But, Maraham said, any sedentary person planning to train for a marathon or any other tough physical challenge should get a complete physical examination first, including a treadmill stress test with an echocardiogram to record the heart's performance.

At the same time, Maraham said there probably is no effective way for race sponsors to identify and exclude an at-risk individual during an event in which only one in every 50,000 to 100,000 contestants die, he said.

Amy and Norman Hirohata-Goto yesterday mourned the loss of their son, Grant, who died after completing his third Honolulu Marathon.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon Association and a medical doctor himself, said he would recommend that anyone older than 40 undertaking marathon training get a stress test on a treadmill with an echocardiogram.

But Grant was just 30 when he started running, Norman said, and "when you are 30 you figure it's not your time. Maybe later." His friends always felt that Grant was the toughest among them, his father said.

He had run cross-country at 'Iolani, and although "he knew he wasn't the greatest runner, he did two previous marathons," Norman said. "Grant would be the last person to worry about."

The family was more worried about Grant's younger brother, Gregg, 30, participating in his first Honolulu Marathon, and how 62-year-old Norman would fare.

Norman was running the event for the 22nd time, wearing his trademark shirt with the label, "Da Hanahou Marathoner," and a list of the races he has finished every year since 1979.

Norman's success as a runner may have masked another warning sign: a problem with high blood pressure which had prompted Norman to start running in the first place with marathon co-founder Dr. Jack Scaff's team of recovering heart patients.

On Sunday, the father and two sons started the race together at Ala Moana Beach Park, and Grant spoke about how nice it was that the marathon was firing off the fireworks in time for the runners to enjoy them, his father said yesterday.

They were the last words he heard from Grant, who was soon lost in the crowd.

Grant was out to break the 5-hour mark, after having run his first marathon in 5 hours and 13 minutes, "without too much training," and his second in 5 hours, 7 minutes. This year, Norman knew that Grant had a problem with a callus, and had not put in the kinds of miles he should have, but still was biking regularly.

Grant's wife of 18 months, Melissa, herself a triathlete swimmer, biker and runner, saw Grant at the 25-mile mark, and thought her husband looked tired, but thought that everyone looked exhausted at that point.

At 4 hours, 11 minutes and 29 seconds, Gregg crossed the finish line. Norman was nursing an injury and came across at 5 hours, 45 minutes and 21 seconds. He headed past the medical tent to get his T-shirt and meet with the family as planned at Dillingham Fountain.

"All the years I was running, there is a big joke: If they don't see me at the finish line, better look in that medical tent to see if I am in there," Norman said.

Then Norman saw the ambulance, and somebody being taken out of the medical tent on a gurney.

"I said, 'Ho, boy, I hope the guy is OK.' "

Despite the efforts of what Dr. Maraham called a medical team as well prepared as any in the world, Grant was not OK.

The family met at the fountain, and watched the runners straggling in.

"We are not thinking about Grant at all except, 'Gee, where did Grant go? Did he disappear?' " Norman said.

They headed for home, wondering if Grant, an apprentice real estate appraiser with Stellmacher-Sadoyama, was so busy he had gone off to work.

Only then did they get the message from Grant's wife, telling them they should go to The Queen's Medical Center.

Norman remembered yesterday sparking the interest in his son three years ago that caused him to run his first marathon. After Norman had to cancel a marathon appearance because of a trip to India, Grant ran instead.

"When I got back, he came to me with the finisher's shirt, and said, 'Dad, this is for you,' and I said 'No, a marathoner doesn't want a finisher's shirt unless he ran it himself, and this belongs to you.' "

The family will make sure Grant Hirohata-Goto gets his last finisher's shirt and certificate in memorial services planned for the Hongwanji temple on Monday.

His father said the family knows Grant's death is a tragic accident, but as far as running is concerned, nothing will change.

"Maybe people will be staring at me because they know me out on the road, and say, 'That's the guy whose son died in the last marathon,' " Norman said. "But they will also know I still do my exercise, that I am not going to change my lifestyle because of this."

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.