Mana, Ironman World Championship 2022, and Leis

In Hawaiian mythology mana is a spiritual energy and healing power which can exist in places, objects and persons. Hawaiians believe that mana may be gained or lost by actions, and that mana is both external and internal. (Edited from Wikipedia)

Indulge me today for more of a personal, cultural, local flavor piece, which only very loosely relates to coffee. Maybe these types of posts are more interesting to you than coffee nerd posts anyway.

A few weeks ago Reiko asked me to join her on November 12 at the Ho’olaule’a for the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival, a 10-day affair first held in 1970. She’s going to be teaching how to make ti leaf leis, and she wants me to help since I speak English. I said, “But I don’t know how to make ti leaf leis.” She said I can learn.

With the Ironman World Championship finally returning after its COVID-19 hiatus, I thought this would be a good time to learn. I could make some ti leaf leis for some friend finishers. It is a different event this year. It was huge, with over double the number of athletes as previous years and two days of racing. I’ve heard a lot of (justified) grumbling.

For example, the guy who cuts hubby’s hair, located in town, had to shut down both race days, as well as many other businesses impacted by road closures, some of them as long as 6:30am-1:30am (19 hours). And two large parking lots that had always been public and free, became paid parking lots, shortly before the race. $15/hour! This really rankled. Even the business owners that are there don’t get to park there. Luckily, race week corresponds with the public schools’ fall break.

I won’t get into all the arguments for and against holding Ironman here. I get the sense there’s a strong local sentiment that the championships have outgrown their venue, and the community is exhausted hosting. Someone else host the party now.

This race depends on volunteers. And many of the volunteers are found in local clubs and groups. Your organization supplies the volunteers for some task, you all bond by working together, then later Ironman donates some amount to the organization. For example, my cousins in the Lions Club manned the Special Needs bag distribution on the run course. Hubby and I (not as part of any organization) did various volunteer jobs before the races and on the first race day.

I met a couple from Luxembourg (the lady hails from Japan) who are not athletes. Many years ago after marrying on another Hawaiian island, they made their first trip to the Big Island on what happened to be race week. Someone asked them to volunteer, and they asked if it was OK if they weren’t racing (yes!!). They loved the experience so much, for years they have been flying here (this year for two weeks) every year to volunteer. Wow.

Reiko, hubby, and I volunteered as Finish Line catchers. A volunteer gives each finisher a kukui nut lei, and two other volunteers give an athlete a towel and guide them back to the post-race area. At first it was a little slow since it was mostly only pros finishing at the start of our 4-hour shift. Reiko spotted legendary Aunty Mele at the finish line area, wearing a green volunteer shirt (a higher status volunteer). She was there already by 4:00 or so for her main job of singing Hawai’i Aloha at 12:30am! I saw a photo of her at the finish line singing with retiring Ironman announcer Mike Reilly. What endurance! I read in the Ke Ola article I linked to that she was an Ironman volunteer coordinator for 32 years. Reiko sang and danced for Aunty Mele before our work finally began.

After Race Day 1, I wanted to get started on the leis I intended to give some athletes before their banquet on Sunday. There’s a strong culture of giving and appreciation here. I often find it a delightful surprise when I’m bestowed with a lei. And although ti leaves are found all over here, they can be transformed into a gift. I like the idea of dedicating your efforts to someone else. You think of that person and why you’re making the lei. Ti leis have mana.

You do have to first prepare the ti leaves so that they’re pliable and twistable. I won’t give instructions here. There are many ways to make these leis. I like learning in-person. Reiko demonstrated and described, but encouraged me to just try things so I could learn and make my own mistakes, e.g., what happens if you use a too-young leaf. Mistakes were made, some lessons learned. I was initially planning to make the leis a few days beforehand and store them in the fridge. Reiko felt very strongly that leis need to be made on the day of gifting. It’s not uncommon that she gets up before the sun’s out to harvest leaves and make a lei to give in the morning.

So instead of making more ti leis, the day after learning about ti leaf leis, I made some bougainvillea leis (that I already knew how to do). It was a pleasure to give four bougainvillea and three ti leis (some were Reiko’s demonstration ones) to seven local first-time Ironman finishers at a community event at the pool the day after the second race. Their surprise and delight was a gift to me.

This year was a particularly special race for Rune and me. Two Norwegians, in their debut Kona races, and only the second Ironman-distance race for both of them, got first (and a new course record) and third.

Back in 2012 Rune wanted to race on Team Norway for the ITU (International Triathlon Union) World Championship race in Auckland, New Zealand. Winter sports are Norway’s thing, not triathlon. The Norwegian Triathlon Federation was just beginning to focus on cultivating triathletes, particularly their junior athletes. They wouldn’t financially support the “age group” triathletes like Rune, but with some minor requirements, they let Rune be on the team. Team Norway was three juniors and two age groupers that year. Rune also raced on Team Norway in London in 2013, a larger team since more Norwegians wanted to participate. Then he switched to Team USA for Edmonton, Canada in 2014.

It has been great fun to watch the fruits of the Federation’s labor. Blummenfelt won gold at the Olympics last year and won the 2021 Ironman World Championships held at St. George, Utah (because of COVID-19 and Hawaii’s situation). And now Gustav Iden won Ironman Kona and is seeking his Olympic gold. It’s a lot of fun to look back at this old photo and see these now very famous athletes in their younger days. Heia Norge!

4 thoughts on “Mana, Ironman World Championship 2022, and Leis

  1. Here in Coeur d’Alene Idaho, we sponsor many athletic events, including Ironman. I can’t say that we have quite the historical background that you do, but living in the Inland-Northwest is wonderful. And of course we have the name “Coeur d’Alene” which no one can pronounce and we can thank the French for that one. None the less, like Hawaii, we’re blessed with God’s beauty and plenty of good coffee.

    1. One of our friends (used to live here, now back on the mainland) will be racing IM Coeur d’Alene next year, hoping to qualify for Kona. If he does, he definitely gets a pound of our coffee!

  2. Very cool. Lovely to recognize and learn that the leis that one of the Ceramics professors at CCA used to give the ceramics students for the graduation ceremony was a ti leaf lei.

  3. Fascinating read about local traditions and volunteer’s efforts needed to run the annual Ironman World Championship.

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