By WAYNE JOSEPH
When I used to coach both cross country and track & field for more than two decades on the Big Island I had a reputation as being strict but fair.
Something like the late Ken Yamase who I emulated as he became a role model for me.
Strict but fair! I was a no nonsense coach and I learned from the best.
That didn’t stop the boys from coming out for cross country at WaiakeaHigh School. In fact in my last year of coaching the Warriors, I has 64 boys turn out for the team. That same year we lost the Big Island Interscholastic Federation championship to the then perennial league champion Hawaii Preparatory Academy by a mere two points.
Which brings my thought back to that year, it was 1999, and for coming so close I was named Waiakea’s Coach of the Year.
Every year prior and every year since I had athletes that would quit the team and it was nothing that I’d take lightly. I figured that if you were a quitter that trend would continue throughout your life.
One young person proved me wrong and it was from this person that I learned a real lesson on how to coach.
The year was 2004 and during that time I became a real coach. I saw one of my cross country runners, a kid that had quit the team several times before, at the starting line of the Big Island Marathon, attempting his first 26.2-mile race.
Robert Otsubo, I thought, what possibly motivated you to take on such a task? And are you going to quit this, too?
During his first three or four miles into the race I found myself actually coaching him, talking with him, getting him to slow down from his adrenaline rush and save himself for what was ahead.
I talked with him the entire way and shared valuable knowledge about the course which I had done myself many times before.
I became a coach that day and Robert Otsubo became a man.
At mile 22, I told Otsubo to go ahead and have a strong finish, which he did coming across the finish line in 3 hours, 29 minutes and I was two minutes behind.
We both came across that finish line because he came back for me, holding each other’s hands high to signal victory while Otsubo set the new course record for those 18 and under.
It stands today as one of my proudest coaching moments as I believe that is what “real coaching” is all about and I have a new found respect for Otsubo, the man.
Later he would write “thank you for teaching me so much about running, motivation, determination and commitment.” Otsubo is currently in the military and deployed to far off Kyrgyzstan where he recently ran his first half marathon, a distance of 13.1 miles.
Otsubo enlisted a year after graduating from college, in 2010, and his current military occupation is titled Aircraft Hydraulics Specialist.
“I have a great appreciation for the discipline the military takes pride in,” he said. “I rather dislike machines — ironically my MOS (military occupation specialty) — and Im trying to cross train, but my learned discipline is what keeps me going.”
“This was a true competitive race,” Otsubo said. “In seven years, I was more than just deciding I was just overdue for a good race.”
Otsubo used his first half marathon as a training gauge of how fit he is because his Air Force career is important to him.
“I haven’t gone more than one week without running since 2003,” he said. “Aside from running, I swim, and when I’m home I love surfing.”
Otsubo’s short-term goals are to score a perfect on his upcoming physical fitness test, which is a requirement for him to enter into the Combat Rescue Officer field.
As for diet, Otsubo tries to stay clear of processed, high calorie and sugary foods.
“I try to make sure most of my meals consist mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains,” Otsubo said. “I stopped drinking soda in high school and I’ll stick to drinking water 95 percent of the time.”
But deployment also means struggles with what he consumes.
“Depending on where I am and what I have access to, this can take a bit of creativity to eat healthy,” Otsubo said.
It is people like Robert Otsubo that make coaching all that more worthwhile and now he serves his country, a noble young man like so many of the others, both men and women who serve.
Otsubo is one of the many reasons I will continue to host the Big Dog Family Veterans Day 5K run/walk on Nov. 11, from Coconut Island starting at 7:30 a.m. All those in the military are free including those wearing a grey ribbons or pins of HOPE to show their support for brain cancer survivors and their families.
“When I’m having one of those homesick days, I’ll read a running story on line at the Tribune-Herald web site and it takes me back to those days at Waiakea and reminds me of my roots,” Otsubo said.
Someday should you see a grateful American thanking the many service members for their service, remember to “smile” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
Email the Big Dog at firstname.lastname@example.org.