By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
There were special moments everywhere at the 16th annual Big Island International Marathon on Sunday, especially for a contingent of Japanese runners. Their heart-warming tales in a moment.
Somewhere over the rainbow, former race coordinator Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph, who passed away Jan. 22, is smiling. He loved to see people cross the finish line — a metaphor to his life’s motto of giving your best and finishing the job.
“It went wonderful. It was perfect weather,” said Bob Wedemann, who coordinated the race with his brother Joe. “I really miss Wayne and I never believed how he could do it by himself, something Joe and I struggled to do. From the outside, it doesn’t look like you’re doing anything. But that’s the sign of somebody doing a good job.
“For me, personally, it’s been great. It’s almost not like work. I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’m already looking forward to next year.”
That’s the type of commitment that would have the Big Dog nodding in approval.
It was overcast, windy and chilly at Hilo Bayfront, where the finish line awaited new champions.
Sam Tilly, of Alaska, ran the 26.2 miles the fastest in 2 hours, 39 minutes and 22 seconds. He ran in such a low-key manner that the public address announcer failed to mention his arrival. And then he kept on running, apparently back to a warm hotel bed for a long nap.
Atsuko Fujii, of Japan, finished in 3:32:29, taking the women’s title.
“The first part going down the hill was easy,” she said. “Toward the ocean the scenery was the same. It felt like it was a long way.”
But she had fun in her first BIIM and 12th overall marathon, including the Honolulu Marathon in December. She ran with her husband, Hiroshi. It was his birthday, marking a special occasion for the couple, who have run four marathons together.
She passed him twice, but was too far away to yell, “Ganbatte kudasai,” which translates to “Do your best, please.” Even in another language, the legacy of Joseph lives on at the BIIM.
Ganbatte kudasai also applies to Kana Inoue, 21, an art major at UH-Hilo from Japan. She was one of four Japanese runners and college students who ran in either the 5 kilometer, half-marathon or marathon.
They were supported by a half-dozen friends and got acquainted with Fujii — strangers coming together, getting to know each other, and sharing something special together.
That type of community bonding always moved the Big Dog, who made it a habit in his “Running with the Big Dog” columns to thank the numerous volunteers. From high above, “Thank you, Hilo marathon volunteers,” Joseph is shouting.
Back to Inoue, who is not your typical runner. It was her first time running. She did the 5K, accomplishing the first step of a three-pronged goal. The next is to run a half-marathon in the summer and finally to log in a full 26.2-mile marathon.
“I’m surprised I got a medal. I was second place for the 20-29 year old age group,” said Inoue, who’s from Tokyo. “I never thought I’d run, but now I’m happy.”
Kohei Yamazaki, 32, graduated from UHH last semester and landed a job at the Mauna Kea telescope. He ran the half-marathon in 2:25:48, his first time at the BIIM.
“My girlfriend (Ayako Suda) graduated from UHH in marine science. She’s going for her masters at Tohoku University in Japan,” he said. “She likes running, too. I’ve run in seven marathons, but my favorite sport is basketball. My favorite player is Kevin Garnett.”
Yuka Yamashiro, 21, is an English major at UHH and completed the half-marathon in 2:43:31, enjoying the scenery, one of the marathon’s trademarks.
“I ran in high school, but wanted to try something different. It was really hard, with the tough slopes up and down,” said Yamashiro, who’s from Okinawa, a place similar in tropical beauty. “The scenery is really good. It reminds me of home.”
Ken Hioki, 22, is a student at Hawaii Community College, studying liberal arts. He’s from Thailand and is half Thai and Japanese, speaking both languages and English with fluidity.
He finished the marathon in 3:20, his second attempt at 26.2 miles, a significant moment for him. In his first marathon in Thailand, he went out too fast and walked the second half. He’s found comfort in Hilo.
“I like the beach, surfing and the people. They’re very friendly,” he said.
The last sentence describes the essence of the Hilo marathon, which is more social gathering, with its nice intimacy, than faceless mass event, like the Honolulu Marathon.
In fact, sometimes love stories grab the hearts of runners. Take the case of newlyweds DJ Blinn and his bride, Yuka, who got married March 9 at Liliuokalani Gardens.
Blinn, David Hammes, Marie Kuramoto and Kailua-Kona’s Cowman are the remaining four who have run all 16 Hilo marathons. Blinn has run 110 marathons, but his latest will be the most memorable. That’s because it’s the first time he and his wife have run every step of the way together, finishing in 4:28.
The couple met two years ago at the Kona marathon. Yuka ran with her veil. Her husband ran with an endless amount of joy.
“The best part was the energy and love we shared and looking out for each other,” DJ Blinn said. “It was just a special energy running together. I look forward to doing this together for a long time. It’s a dream come true for me.”
The new bride has completed 13 marathons. They held hands when they crossed the finish line together, and simply glowed. It was a priceless present to each other.
“I’m so happy. It was our honeymoon run and we finished together,” Yuka Blinn said. “It was fun and I’m very happy.”