A runner remembered

David Sakugawa 1932-2013

Even with a legacy that includes decades of coaching, membership in the Valley Isle Road Runners from its earliest days and helping found an iconic event, David Sakugawa is going to be known for more than his contributions to Maui racing.

Sakugawa – part of a trio of marathoners who created the Run to the Sun, an event taking participants from sea level to the Haleakala summit – died on Nov. 25. He was 81.

“People will remember him for his coaching and his running, but more people will remember him for being a great guy, easygoing,” said Steve Sobaje, another of the Run to the Sun’s founders, along with Bill Carroll.

Sobaje ran at Maui High School when Sakugawa was the coach, and they remained friends after Sobaje’s graduation. In 1977, Sobaje received a call from Sakugawa that was the foundation for creating a unique ultramarathon event.

“He said, ‘Bill and I are going to run to the summit. Do you want to join us?’ ” Sobaje recalled.

Carroll said legging to the top of Haleakala – an elevation of 10,023 feet over 36 miles of road – had been on Sakugawa’s mind for some time, and came up often in VIRR meetings.

“He used to always be talking about, ‘Someday I’m going to run up that mountain,’ and I used to listen passively,” Carroll said. “One day, one evening, we had drank ourselves into making an unbreakable agreement that we would do it.

“The three of us got together, we set a date and went down near the airport and got some seaweed and threw it into the ocean. We wanted to run from the ocean to the mountaintop. That’s the history. We just did it, the three of us. We had no intention of it becoming an annual thing. We just went off on our own.”

The event did catch on, however – taking place nearly annually, sometimes with a less-formal organization, and involving solo runners and relay teams. The start is now at the Maui Mall, but much of the original spirit remains.

“People from all over came to participate,” Carroll said. “When I look at the mountain anymore, that’s part of me and everybody else who’s sweated a few gallons doing that. That’s his baby, David’s.”

Sakugawa, who worked as a pig farmer in Kula, was a fixture at Maui County races at every level, and involved in myriad ways, from competing to organizing to advising.

Bob Getzen, a former director of the Hana Relay and Maui Marathon, described Sakuga-wa as “instrumental” in getting VIRR started – the club was founded in 1970.

“David was the very humble, low-key guy,” said Joe Alueta, a VIRR board member and current director for the Hana Relay. “He was always helping whenever he could. He was a busy guy, but he always helped out.”

* Brad Sherman is at sports@mauinews.com