‘Wanna-be’ Kohala runner is now the ‘Real Deal’
“Running is cheaper than therapy” as stated on a bumper sticker you will see on a Kohala cross country coach Melody Niefeld car.
A self described one time wanna be runner, Niefeld has transformed herself into the real deal of competitive long distance runners on the Big Island.
“Please keep in mind that running is a hobby for me,” a humble Niefeld said. “I don’t consider myself an expert in any sense nor even an accomplished runner.”
Niefeld was the first woman to cross the finish line in the Big Island Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in March 2011 and at the age of 55 qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon when she ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota.
Despite all the recent running success Niefeld wasn’t always a confident or successful distance runner.
“Throughout nearly 30 years of my life, from age 20 to 50, I could define myself as a ‘wanna-be’ runner,” she said. “I would give my running shoes a work out for a couple of months and then let them collect dust.”
As a teen in high school in the chilly Midwest of Minnesota Niefeld participate in one of the few sports available to girls during the pre Patsy Mink days of Title IX, track and field.
“I was a sprinter in high school and I did synchronized swimming for four years (1970-’74).” Niefeld said.
Niefeld ran the 100, 220 and 440 yard events, along with the 440 and 880 medley relays qualifying for state competition in her freshman, junior and senior years.
It was at the University of Minnesota that Niefeld was exposed to the caliber of collegiate sports in competitive swimming doing the breast stroke.
Niefeld grew up in rural Minnesota on a farm and spent 10 years teaching before making the move to the Big Island.
“I needed a respite from the unforgiving cold climate,” she said. “The nearby university was advertising for teachers to apply for Hawaii teaching positions and since it was during the dead of winter the offer enticed me.”
Niefeld’s move to Kohala came 15 years ago as she continues to enjoy the experience.
“The climate and topography are a stark contrast to Minnesota and the genuine friendliness akin to rural USA is welcoming,” Niefeld said.
Niefeld serves as the Kohala School counselor for grades 9 through 12 and also teaches two classes to seniors in College Prep Skills.
“Everyday seems to scream by,” Niefeld said. “I enjoy the student contact time and the diversity my job entails. As counselor I am humanly engaged with the kids and the most potent ingredient within that human engagement is holding aspirations.”
Niefeld believes in the power, or what she calls the magic, of being with students.
“When the light shines in the eyes of students I am able to hold aspirations for a student,” she said. “As they sort out their life goals, plan their future and make the transition to adulthood.”
Niefeld’s attitude and high energy level that she brings with her to Kohala is exciting and what contribute to her overall fitness and inner glow.
“I spend a lot of time traversing the school campus to contact students, teachers and the administration, which allows me to inadvertently cross train while I work,” she said.
During her off duty time Niefeld will run 30 to 50 miles per week which includes stretching exercises with the Cowboy cross country team.
“At home I’ll include crunches, pushups, and a few light weights,” Niefeld said. “I cross train on a stationary bike on occasions and would like to introduce swimming two times per week.”
As for diet, Niefeld is on a ‘SEE FOOD’ diet.
“I am not much of a gate-keeper when it comes to my food intake,” she said. “If I like it, I eat it. My metabolism seems to be rather high, so I am not vigilant about calories unless I plan on running a 20 miler.”
Niefeld will consume scrambled eggs for breakfast, most morning, and a simple sandwich with fruit and dessert for lunch for this talented athlete.
“My evening meal varies but is generally balanced,” she said. “I do not smoke or drink alcohol and am generally quite sensitive to any food or beverage with caffeine.”
Most Sunday’s you can find this school counselor doing a 15 to 22 mile run, starting from her home in Hawi, along the coastal highway going out as far as Kawaihae.
“The long runs have almost become a spiritual means to cleanse and renew myself from my work week,” Niefeld said. “For 2 to 3 hours my mind and body are held captive to my wandering thoughts. I have a chance to process, contemplate, and plan ongoing life events.”
Melody Niefeld is an exceptional athlete who at one time considered herself a wanna be runner and has transformed herself into one of the best age group runners in Hawaii.
“I am a believer in the mental, physical and emotional benefits which are attributed to running and daily exercise,” she said. “I am no longer a ‘wanna be’ runner, my tennis shoes hit the pavement daily.”
And someday should you happen to see a senior runner giving thanks for the many blessings of what life has to offer remember to smile, say ‘woof’ and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
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