Wright On: Waimea mailman delivers worldwide
One of the more accomplished athletes on the Big Island is a mailman you probably never heard of, a runner who has never won a race, but has a message that just might save someone’s life.
Because of a strain of diabetes that runs through his family, and through him, Harvey Nakasone’s four-word message applies specifically to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics, but more generally applies to anyone, not just those with high blood sugar levels.
“You can do it,” Nakasone, a 56-year-old Waimea resident said the other day. “I’m not an athlete, really, I never have been. I’ve never been trained by anyone, I just decided to do something for my health.”
It was a little more involved than just that, but these days, roughly 20 years after he started, Nakasone has accomplishments envied by even the greatest long distance runners in the world. Last month, Nakasone and 144 others finished the Antarctica Marathon, which was a personal capstone of sorts, in that it was the last of the seven continents on which he completed a marathon.
He considers his time in these 26.2-mile runs to be so irrelevant, he doesn’t bother to record them or to try to beat his time in the last one when he starts his next one.
Instead, he thinks of numbers more meaningful to him than a personal best.
“Obesity is one of the leading causes of death in the United States,” he said, “and it’s getting worse; we lead the world in obesity, it’s literally killing us.”
The point gets more specific in his own family. Born in Okinawa, he moved to Tacoma, Wash., with his family and then to the Waimea area in 1993 where extended family members had already been established. Diabetes had always been an issue in the family, both parents, uncles and aunts having been afflicted, then in December of 2003, his mother passed to the disease.
“In my late 30s my weight was up to about 180 so I started running, no big thing, just a way to lose weight,” he said, “and I lost about 35 pounds. It wasn’t long after my mom died I read an article that said only about 1 percent of people on the planet had run a marathon, so I thought I would do that, as a tribute to my mom.”
Again, no training, just a little more running, thinking about completing a marathon in his mother’s honor. In 2004, he completed the Honolulu Marathon, taking more than five hours, but feeling alive and committed all the way through.
Then he ran it again in 2005 and 2006. He learned there are five official marathons in the state and he ran all of them. At a Big Island International Marathon, he saw someone with a shirt that read, “Marathon Maniacs,” asked what it meant, and Nakasone was told it was a group of runners who complete three marathons in 90 days, so he did that, too.
From that group, headquartered in Tacoma, but world wide in scope with over 13,000 members, he heard about marathons on all seven continents and was immediately intrigued by the concept.
“Some people are running (marathons) in all 50 states, but I don’t have that kind of money,” he said, “I thought it would be more cost effective to try the seven continents.”
In 2012 he ran in Berlin and Tokyo, in 2013 he finished one in Australia, tearing a knee meniscus that necessitated a year off in rehabilitation, then completed one in Brazil for his sixth continent.
“You meet great people and you have these experiences that will stay with you all your life,” he said. “Did you know Antarctica is a desert? I had no idea, they flew us to southern Argentina and from there it was three days on a boat to get to St. George Island (Antarctica). The course was mostly clear, it was gravel, but muddy in some places because it was their warm weather month, but you see penguins, snow falling, all these people so excited to be there, an amazing experience.”
But it started, as they say, with one small gesture, or step.
“I could not run a mile when I started,” Nakasone said, “but none of that matters. I remind people to get some good shoes, fitted running shoes, but after that, it’s basically free, just get out the door and start.”
Yes, that’s the hard part. But if you have high blood sugar, or if you know you are overweight and need to do something, go help yourself. Walk if need be, at the start, but do it.
“You will find a whole community of encouragement out there,” Nakasone said, “and you will find yourself feeling better about yourself right away.”
In a little more than a decade, Nakasone has completed 50 marathons and 12 half-marathons. He has never even considered trying to win a race.
Along the way, one stride at a time, he’s accomplished so much more than winning a race, enough to stay healthy, live longer and make his mother proud.
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