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AOY Rewind: Hunter continues to pursue passions

Between running and working toward medical degree, King Kekaulike grad also helps next generation

Reid Hunter gives a shaka as he heads to a win in the Day of Hope 10K on Nov. 10, 2018 at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. Hunter, a 2009 graduate of King Kekaulike High School, has developed into an elite runner and is also pursuing a career in internal medicine. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Training and competing at high levels has taught Reid Hunter about discipline and focus, tools that have not only helped him to succeed in the running world, but in everyday life.

Between marathon training, working for his father’s construction company and coaching, the 2009 King Kekaulike High School graduate has been studying to pursue a career in internal medicine. By next term, he will have finished all of his prerequisites from the University of Hawaii-Maui College and online courses at UH Manoa.

“Running teaches you a lot about discipline and accomplishing and setting goals, and you can use that in your whole entire life,” Hunter said via Zoom Tuesday. “So I’d definitely say it’s a worthwhile pursuit, and it increases your mental discipline.”

Whether he’s enduring long runs or nights studying for medical school, Hunter has the mental and physical stamina.

Through running, which has been a passion of his since childhood, Hunter said he also learned a lot about human physiology and “how that can be applied to running.”

King Kekaulike’s Reid Hunter celebrates as he wins the 1,500 meters at the state track and field championships at Keaau High School on May 16, 2009. Hunter also won the 800. — R&M Sports Images photo

“From there, I looked into disease and pathologies, and was really interested in microbiology and it just kind of built upon itself from a fairly early age,” he added.

In high school, Hunter gradually moved his way to the top of the ranks, finishing in fourth and fifth place at the state cross country championships his junior and senior year, respectively. The Na Alii squad also won their first Maui Interscholastic League team title in 2007 after Hunter had battled for the individual crown.

By his senior track season, he was on his way to becoming a state champion, winning the 1,500 and 800 meters.

“That had like a big impact on my life just because I wanted to win pretty much from middle school and then coming up short for three years and then finally getting it in the last year,” he said. “I just remember working super hard and finally achieving my goal, and getting our meet record really meant a lot for me, it just showed me how much hard work and discipline and time, what you can achieve.”

Being selected The Maui News MIL Boy Athlete of the Year after that season — becoming the first male winner from King Kekaulike — was a “very proud moment,” Hunter said, especially because his teammate Bailey Massenburg had won the girls honor the same year.

To see what Hunter achieved his last year and now as an adult road racer, coach and university student is “extremely gratifying,” Na Alii track and field head coach Jesse Henderson says.

“The most gratifying part is to see the kind of young man he’s becoming,” Henderson said. “The track and field and cross country running is nice, but when you see these youngsters grow into quality human beings, not that he wasn’t to start with, but when you see that progression continue, that’s excellent.”

King Kekaulike cross country coach James Alger recalled that they never had to persuade Hunter to get in the miles, much like his work ethic now.

“One of his long runs would take him from his house on Baldwin Avenue down to Paia and then back up to Kula Lodge before turning around to go home,” Alger said. “Some days, it would be running around the old pineapple fields to chase deer.

“This was Reid, always out to explore out on his runs.”

After graduating, Hunter continued his running career in New Zealand “for the adventure,” where he finished his undergraduate studies and represented Auckland as a two-time national finalist in the 1,500.

“I had a really good coach, I wanted to go work with him and be under his tutelage, and my run was pretty good down there,” he said. “I ran lots of personal bests, I didn’t quite go as high as I wanted but that’s just how it goes sometimes.”

The mid-distance athlete eventually returned to Maui, where he continued to complete prerequisites for medical school and started training for long distances.

“I’m just here in Hawaii doing school, so it’s hard for me to travel for a month or two,” he said. “I can go and just do one race and not miss out on too much and I found that I just like the training, and I enjoy the races, and I enjoy the big event, and they often have prize money so that’s an extra bonus.”

In addition to collecting individual marathon titles — including back-to-back Maui Marathon crowns in 2014 and ’15 — Hunter has also represented Team Hawaii at the Hapalua Chase half marathon, where professional runners from around the world try to catch Hawaii’s nominated top runners. He has also made appearances on other semi-professional teams like the Honolulu Ekiden Relay Team in 2019 and Honu Elite starting in 2018.

“Reid is one of the most hard working individuals I’ve met,” said Ian Tsang, founder of Honu Elite. “I remember him telling me how he’d balance school, work and running twice a day, racking up 100-plus-mile weeks on his own.”

As unarguably one of the best distance runners King Kekaulike has ever had, Hunter has also given a lot back to the program by talking race strategy, sharing tips on discipline and work ethic, and accompanying Na Alii runners on workouts, Alger pointed out.

“We kind of hold him up as the standard, and when he does have time to come up and help and the kids get to run with him, it’s really a big boost to the youngsters because they’ve heard all about him and what he’s done in the marathons,” Henderson said. “He’s somewhat of a homegrown celebrity, so when the kids get to run with you, it’s a big deal.”

Helping out the high schoolers during past seasons “really just takes me back, feeling like I want to go out there and run,” Hunter said.

Since COVID-19 forced the cancellation of most races and organized sporting events in the state these past few months, Hunter said he’ll miss competing but has been taking some much needed rest.

“I just genuinely enjoy it, putting in the miles and seeing improvements and anticipating the next race,” he said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s been nice resting too, I’ve been lifting weights and I don’t have to wake up early and get in 14 miles a day.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com

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