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Cross Country - Girls
Students at Hawai'i Preparatory Academy might have academics as the top priority, but that fact would be hard to discern from the extraordinary record of the school's boys and girls cross-country running teams. Both teams have each won five state titles and more Big Island Interscholastic Federation (BIIF) championships than any other team on the island.
Many are surprised to learn that HPA's history of success in cross-country running is founded almost entirely on student-athletes with no experience in distance running before attending HPA. Cross-country running is an intensely individual sport. Yet, student-athletes new to distance running find at HPA a program that welcomes them into the camaraderie of a team that practices and competes together.
The Ka Makani approach to distance running goes back to the early years of HPA's first participation at the state level more than 40 years ago for the boys and 25 years ago for the girls. Few back then thought of HPA as a dominant cross-country school. Today, following an extraordinary streak of recent titles for the girls team that matches the boys title count, every distance running program statewide is aware of and respects HPA's cross-country runners, coaches, and program.
With great coaches and a tradition of challenging practices on the hillside trails of Waimea's ranching country, HPA has become a powerhouse. Other teams know that when HPA shows up at a meet, they had better be prepared because the Ka Makani will give everybody a race.
Yet, at HPA, winning races or championship titles are not the primary focus of training. The coaches all focus on helping each runner find his or her most technically efficient stride.
"From gawky to gazelle" is a transformation phrase one sometimes hears from coaches when they speak of the development of their runners.
And that's one of the great rewards for the coaches. They will all tell you that seeing the evolution of a student-athlete into a full-fledged runner is one of the main joys of their job. And the runners discover that HPA is, simply, a great place to run.
A clear vision guides girls cross-country head coach Kimo Higgins '86.
"Any girl with determination and a dream can put enough miles on the road to turn herself into a good distance runner," Higgins says. "Hard work pays off."
Higgins has serious distance-running credibility. As a sophomore runner on HPA's 1983 boys cross-country team, Higgins finished fourth in the Hawai'i high school state championships —and second on the Ka Makani team—to cap HPA's first state championship. The 1983 team was undefeated in every race that season.
"It wasn't even close," he says.
As with today's runners who often are not yet aware of their full potential, even as the 1983 meet victories piled up, Higgins had no idea that he would improve his running with each race as the team dominated every team in every meet that year, including the state championship.
It wasn't until Higgins graduated and was attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on a Navy ROTC scholarship that he fully realized the many-fold benefits of long-distance running.
As a sophomore runner at HPA, Higgins had just one goal: keep up with the team's star runner, senior Chris Carswell '84. Higgins kept up with his teammate, and finished the season, he says, having accomplished far more than he had imagined possible at the beginning of the year.
It was a key insight into team dynamics in a sport that emphasizes individual performance. Your teammates can bring out the best in you.
Of course, solid coaching helps guide runners into that zone.
During the season, significant effort is expended toward helping each runner find her "stride"—practicing improvements in technique that result in running with the greatest efficiency.
This type of workout becomes more than exercise—each day's training becomes the search for "pure" running that Higgins experienced his sophomore year without realizing it.
For HPA's girls cross-country teams in the modern era, as the season progresses, Higgins ramps up the training for each runner, increasing the workload and expectations.
"We keep careful records of all our training," says Higgins. "We get really excited about the season when we start seeing crazy good splits in practice."
There is no substitute for this hard work. It's the best way to turn "gawky into gazelle," Higgins says.
And his belief in the benefits of distance-running remain as strong as ever.
"Of all the sports, it's the one with the greatest life lesson: hard work pays off."