They came in droves on a misty Saturday morning, filling the contents of a gravel parking lot and leaving cars forced to find side patches of grass on the entrance’s slope. Most came clad in long socks or pants, some —predictably those who had been here before — wore gloves while an adventurous few sported shorts and sports bras in lieu of a shirt.
There were high profile CrossFit athletes, Olympic weightlifters, surfers, endurance athletes, vacationers and island locals, all united by one thread: the chance to help the children of CrossFit Poipu.
“I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run director Aaron Hoff said as he stood over a crowd of more than 700 eager athletes.
And why shouldn’t he be?
The race, dreamt up as a way for Hoff to keep Poipu’s Kids Program free to the kids of Kauai, has grown from a local run to one of the CrossFit community’s premiere events, drawing big name sponsors such as Progenex and Assault Air Bike and athletes like former Games champions Ben Smith and Jason Khalipa as well as Olympian Morghan King.
But it was the 150 children who stole the show. Some ran the 5K while others braved the treacherous 10k trail, racing gleefully up and down slopes of mud with no fear.
There these kids were, many barefoot and breezing by the obstacles with ease, reminding all the runners exactly what this was about: helping others across the finish line.
We live in a world where local CrossFit competitions have grown from once or twice a year to dozens a weekend and CrossFit Games payouts reach six figures, making the sport a full-time profession for the upper echelon.
But there’s another element to fitness that’s frequently pushed to the side during CrossFit Open season, competitor workouts and the whiteboard contest in regular group WODs: bringing others up with you.
The UHTR was a reminder of what fitness is really about, a glimpse of kids pulling their comrades through the mud, strangers hoisting others over a hill and Games-level athletes extending a rope to the person behind them.
There’s a part of CrossFit that unites us, that makes us feel like we are part of something greater, as if every single finish is a critical piece of the puzzle.
There were no egos, no judges and no failures in the hills of Kauai, just an appreciation. For what the race was doing, for what the kids were doing and, as weary athletes stumbled through the final mud pit, for what fitness has allowed our bodies to do.
Hoff, who has been clean and sober for nearly 20 years, has seen the dangers of drinking and drugs firsthand and has also experienced how fitness can change someone’s life. He knew he could impact Kauai’s youth, he just needed a way to fundraise to do so.
The UHTR, which also features a relay, had 30 people sign up for the inaugural race in 2014 (though Progenex’s sponsorship brought that number closer to 300). Hoff got 450 participants last year and, if this year is any indication, the race shows no signs of slowing down.
“With CrossFit, you can create a bridge for people who are struggling with other stuff. I’ve seen what it does to the kids. A light went on,” Hoff said. “They are around other good people. And once they surround themselves with good people, their lives can start to change.”
All photos courtesy of Benedick David.