Friday, September 21, 2007

Ironman World Championship: Kona Folk Tales

I tell those who have not raced in Kona; if you aren't a spiritual person, when you race the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, you will be when its over. (Think Yoda talking to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back; Luke tells Yoda he isn't afraid of what he will face. Grimly, Yoda says, "You will be." I'm not sure if it is the gravity of the race, the landscape, the conditions, or perhaps dehydration and the searing sun. When I raced Kona in 2000, I had the good fortune to meet a few locals who educated me on some local legends, folk tales and perhaps even put in a good word for me.

My brother and I visited a local farmers market in Kona. Imagine two very midwest looking guys (one with a Cub hat on) and the other with his Chicago Triathlon shirt on walking among a bunch of local Hawaiian types. My brother and I had a golden retriever when we were kids. We both love animals and walking in the market we asked to pet a vendor's golden. The dog started to wag his tail instantly and was quickly licking our faces. My brother and I giggling like little kids while scratching the dog's ears. The dog making almost a purring sound that goldens make when they're happy. "That dog doesn't like anyone who isn't pure of spirit. How can I help you?" We are just looking for some good pineapple and vegetables for omelets and such. "Here. Take these. This is white pineapple. It is not allowed off of the island and we usually don't give it to tourists but my dog likes you so that is enough for me." We purchased some veggies but the man didn't charge us for the pineapple. We started a mild argument over money that occurs on the Italian side of my family. "If you don't take this money...insert consequences here. Please take this money." He still refused and we asked what we could do for him and his good will. He said to go to a local Hawaiian temple and say a prayer for his family as one of his family was very sick. Agreed - it was the best pineapple I've ever had and if you ever go to the big island...get up early, go to a farmers market and buy as much as you can eat.

I was going to drive to Hawi and 'see' the bike this task was really a formality of my drive. (My brother would be playing golf at Mana Lani so I took on the task for us.) At the temple, I walked around and talked to the locals working there and asked him for assistance to complete my task. He told me what to do and where to go. Before I left he caught up to me and said, "Have you made any offering to Pele?" What? Like sacrifice a goat or something? No. "No, no...she likes gin." Excuse me? So now I have the full low down. Build a lava pyramid (carefully - that stuff cuts like a razor) kneel before it, say a prayer for whatever you want to pray for, pour gin over the top. Mission accomplished.
Later that day I befriended a lady named Jan Kaoo from Hawi. Jan owned a cafe at that time and I was her first customer. She was elated that I was an American (tough week with demanding Germans and Dutch racers who gave her a rough ride). Jan didn't even charge me for lunch (but I left a $12 'tip') which is what I think lunch cost. I told Jan about the pyramid and the man we met. She said his name was Uncle Charlie who was very old and practiced the ancient Hawaiian religion, even today.

In the town of Volcano, on the big island, there is only one house standing after the 1986 eruption of Kiluea. The owners of that house called Uncle Charlie to pray on the roof of their house asking Pele to spare their home. He came...and if you ever go to'll see that the lava split and ran around the house. It is the only home to survive and the family lives there today. She told me that to be asked to pray for his family was good luck which perhaps explains that despite the multiple rookie Ironman mistakes I made in 2000...I still finished in 12 hours and change. She also told me that if I ever get asked to have a drink with him...go.

After the race, I walked back to the farmers market as it wrapped up and asked him about his family. He said that they are out of the hospital resting at home. I told him, "I did say that prayer for you." He responded, "I know. I felt it." Ok...scary factor going up; his dog leaning against my very sore legs in a show of loyalty. "I said a prayer for you as well. You finished right?" I did. He said, "Pele is great" and bowed his head. Not knowing what to do, I bowed my head too. He invited me for a drink at a local bar. Remembering Jan's advice...I went. One drink, what the heck - even if it is 8:00 AM. Three hours cell phone ringing (along with my head- buzzing mightily from gin drinks and toasts to everything from Pele, fish in the ocean to finishing Ironman) my wife wondering where I am. Ironman spouses understand that their family members disappearing for three hours is common place. I told Uncle Charlie that I must go as my wife and family needed me for our afternoon plans. The locals in the restaurant waving like I was Norm in "Cheers".
I feel like I am part of the Hawiian ohana (family) and have great respect for the culture and people of the island.

1 comment:

  1. Bob, I totally AGREE. I used to laugh about Madame Pele and her spirit in Kona, when I raced there for the 1st time in 04. Next time I go to Hawaii to bet I will be offering her some gin!!! No doubt. Some think it is silly. The winners don't. :) Jen