Hawaii's Great Aloha Run was twice as nice for winner
• Photo gallery: Great Aloha Run
By Leila Wai AND David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writers
About an hour after being the first to cross the finish line at the 26th annual Great Aloha Run yesterday, Sergio Reyes really had something to celebrate.
Reyes beat out nearly 21,000 participants who made their way from the start of the 8.15-mile race at Aloha Tower to its finish at Aloha Stadium and then asked for the microphone to address the crowd of fans and finishers.
"One more thing I just need to do," said Reyes, a 28-year-old Air Force flight test engineer from Palmdale, Calif. "My whole purpose in coming here was to create a really special environment so that I could bring my girlfriend out with me. It's been absolutely great, you guys have an absolutely beautiful state. It's my first time here, I loved the race. And the one last thing I need to do is for my girlfriend to come out here and join me."
As Aimee Scott, 23, walked out slowly to meet him, the crowd began to realize what was happening and started to respond with cheers.
Reaching into his shorts pocket, Reyes said, "Aimee, thank you so much for coming out here with me." He leaned in so their heads nearly touched. While she giggled and covered her face with her left hand, and he held her right hand in his, he went down on his left knee.
"Baby," he asked, "will you marry me?"
As the crowd cheered, the stadium announcer proclaimed, "She said, 'Yes!' "
The couple hugged, and Reyes lifted Scott off the ground in an embrace.
"I had no idea," Scott said afterward. "He even told me beforehand that he wasn't going to propose. I was just kind of thinking, 'No, no, is he? No, no, really?' "
On Sunday morning the couple was still in California when Reyes suggested going on an outing for Valentine's Day. Scott soon found herself on a plane to Hawai'i with Reyes scheduled to participate in the Great Aloha Run the next morning.
"She had no clue what we were even doing for Valentine's Day," said Reyes, who won in 41 minutes, 12 seconds. "I was in California yesterday, I picked her up, she had no clue where we were going. I was driving south, and we stopped at the airport and I was like, 'All right. Grab your bags.'
"I gave her the ticket inside and that's when she figured out where we were going."
Scott said the trip came as a complete surprise.
"I thought maybe we were going to go to the beach or something for the day yesterday, maybe San Diego or something, and the next thing I know, I'm on a plane to Hawai'i," she said.
It was just one of many stories of the race that offered something for just about everyone, from novice runners to Olympic-class marathoners.
The women's winner, Chantelle Wilder, is a former University of Hawai'i runner. Her brother, Brandon Laan, was the runner-up in the men's race in 41:35. Laan was also the top Honolulu resident finisher in December's Honolulu Marathon.
"Today was great, I felt really good," Wilder said. "Sometimes you're on and sometimes you're off, and today I was on and I'm happy I came out with a win."
Among the most experienced runners was 84-year-old Canadian Maurice French of Thornhill, Ontario, who has more than 150 marathons under the soles of his running shoes.
"I've been running all my life," said French, who finished yesterday's event "in about two hours."
"I come to Hawai'i every winter because it's too cold to run at home in Canada," said French, who retired after a 36-year run in television production with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
He finds a place in Waikīkī every winter, usually near the Ala Wai, where he can run as much as he wants.
"I stay three months out of the year — January, February and March," French said.
He gives very high marks, 8 or 9 on a scale of 10, to the Great Aloha Run.
"This is extremely well-organized," French said. "I registered online and picked up my number over the weekend at the Neal Blaisdell Center. They have lots of good volunteers. It's just a very upbeat, very exciting event."
PAINS AND GAINS
At the other end of the experience spectrum, Kaleo Chang, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Kamehameha Schools and a Pearl City resident, was leaving Aloha Stadium with sore legs and feet, but with a mile-wide grin on his face.
"I thought it would be pretty easy, but it was hard. I had to walk part of the way. The best part was the finish," said Kaleo, who joined his father in the event.
Kawena Akiona, 14, runs track and cross country at Kamehameha, where he is a freshman. He turned in a time of a little more than 53 minutes, good enough for family bragging rights over his mother, Gay Murakami, who finished the course in 58:03.
"It got pretty tough at mile five when my legs started to cramp up, but I was able to work it out and pick it up again at mile seven," Akiona said.
Akiona, who had run the event once before, said he knew from past experience not to get too excited once Aloha Stadium came into view.
"It's deceiving — it looks pretty close when you see the stadium but there's still a ways to go," he said.
Among yesterday's runners were more than 3,000 active-duty military members who ran in formation as part of the Sounds of Freedom Division.
The Army's 25th Transportation Company from Schofield Barracks fielded a team of about 50 runners, including a group of "walking wounded" soldiers who were recovering from or were about to undergo surgery for a variety of knee ailments.
"It was too much to try to do the whole race, but we managed to do four miles," said David Walton, who is built more like a football lineman than a marathon runner.
His shirt soaked through and a brace on his knee, Walton said he planned to "go home, take a bath and relax."
First Sgt. Robert Farmer, who completed his fifth Great Aloha Run yesterday, said this year's "Road Masters" team was only about a third of the 150 troops who normally participate.
"A lot of the others are in Texas, training up to deploy to Iraq the beginning of this summer," Farmer said.
Army Capt. David Walters and 40 other soldiers from the 545th Transport Company, which works out of Hickam Harbor, was barely breathing hard after his first Aloha Run experience.
"Everyone who turned out for this was doing it for fun," Walters said. "We stayed as a unit the whole time. The toughest part was the waiting — for the race to begin."
Making sure that the military troops stayed hydrated and nourished after the run were 75 volunteers from Pearl City High School, most of them members of the school band.
They handed out bottled water, bananas and finisher T-shirts to the military groups that passed through a special exit gate.
Dayna Lopez, who coaches the band's color guard and teaches world history, said one of the parents of a band member works for Carole Kai Charities, which has been organizing the run since 1985.
"They're good kids," Lopez said of the band members. They had to get up at 3 a.m. and be at the stadium by 4:30 to find parking," Lopez said.
The students who volunteered received no extra credit for their service, and sacrificed a large portion of what would have been a day off from classes to help out with the run, Lopez said.
Event organizers said the Great Aloha Run has raised more than $8.1 million for Carole Kai Charities over the past 25 years. The proceeds have been donated to more than 150 nonprofit organizations throughout Hawai'i, including major recipients the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, various military Morale Welfare and Recreation offices, and the United Cerebral Palsy Association.
Kaiser Permanente became title sponsor of the race this year.
For more information about the event and race results, visit www.greataloharun.com.