Jessica Kirkwood living and playing well in Paradise
I wonder if James Michener realized what a profound impact his book “Hawaii” would have on people more than a half century later.
For Jessica Kirkwood, her mother and grandmother the book would bring a life changing experience.
“My grandmother was a world traveler and an avid reader and writer,” Kirkwood said. “Her favorite book in the entire world was Michener’s Hawaii and it was her goal to visit here someday.”
Unfortunately for Kirkwood’s grandmother she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and passed away within one month of the diagnoses at the age of 72.
When Kirkwood learned that her own mother was diagnosed for the third time with cancer she decided to raise money to help pay the cost of sending her to a healing retreat.
“My mum was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s at age 20, and then cervical cancer in her thirties and this last one was stomach cancer at 50,” Kirkwood said. “She developed into stage 4 stomach cancer and was undergoing six months of chemotherapy.”
Kirkwood, a gifted triathlete was exposed to a variety of physical activities at an early age through her mother’s urging.
“My mum put me in softball, swimming, dance and figure skating as a child and gave me a few years to choose which one I wanted to dedicate my time to,” she said. “Swimming was the one sport that stuck and my coaches were so much fun I began racing at age six.”
Kirkwood went on to have a stellar youth swim performance from ages 6 to 18 that she even made the varsity swim team for Simon Fraser University in her home Province of British Columbia.
“I was awarded the title of ‘All-American Swimmer’ and raced in the NAIA division in Backstroke,” Kirkwood said.
It was through her athletic background that Kirkwood first visited the Big Island when she was invited to do a training camp with the Canadian National Triathlon Team in Kona.
“I had been so naïve and thought that this island went as far as Waimea and Captain Cook,” she said. “But when I drove down the Hamakua Coast I felt something I had been needing to feel for a long time.”
Kirkwood claims that she became alive, awake and aware through visiting East Hawaii and wanted her mother to experience those same feelings.
“I had been raising money back in Victoria for my mum and the total amount raised was $3,500,” she said.
While riding her bike in lower Puna, along Red Road, Kirkwood discovered a retreat called Kalani Honua and immediately called her mum.
“I told her I had found a place on the Big Island and how breathtaking it was,” Kirkwood said. “My mum was going through such a scary and exhausting time that I wanted her to feel the same things I was feeling.”
Kirkwood made a deal with her mother saying that if she would battle the cancer and won she would be bringing her to Hawaii to spend two weeks.
“It became part of her motivation to make it through those months of chemo,” she said.
Not only did Kirkwood’s mother get to visit East Hawaii she also continues to return each year to spend time with her daughter that lives in Hawaiian Paradise Park.
My mother is now in remission and doing quite well and I decided that this is where I want to live, go back to the University and explore,” Kirkwood said.
Kirkwood has become well know in the running, biking and swimming scene as this 28 year old competes on a regular basis.
On a whim Kirkwood decided to enter one of the most grueling road races on the island, known as the Hilo to Volcano Ultra Marathon. The race is all uphill, starting at Coconut Island and ending at Cooper Center in Volcano Village.
“I won the women’s division of the 31 mile race in 4 hours 36 minutes,” Kirkwood said.
Kirkwood is also a regular participant of the Joe Wedeman Decimal Man triathlon that is held in HPP.
“We swim in Joe’s pool and will bike the perimeter of HPP, then run around the block,” Kirkwood said.
The young Canadian also dabbled in kids triathlon races in Ontario.
Now she has honed her running and biking talents and is a serious competitor is all facets of triathlons and who at one point raced professionally, competing in 4 world championships.
“I might do the Honu Triathlon next year,” she said. “My goal is really just to do what feels right, to stay happy and healthy on a day to day basis and not to set too high of expectations on myself. It’s more for my peace of mind now, to experience myself and this island, and to get my friends involved too.”
And Kirkwood is quick to reflect on her grandmother not being able to experience Hawaii.
“My mum and I like to think that grand mum is enjoying the islands through us,” she said.
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month we should all help in the effort for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
And someday should you happen to see a happily married retired teacher enjoying the many blessings of living in East Hawaii remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
Happy Birthday to my darling wife, Randee! You are my life, my wife :))) . Love you, Big Dog
Email the Big Dog at firstname.lastname@example.org.