Forever Running with the Big Dog
A Personal Rememberance by Peter Sur:
Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph, the tireless soldier, teacher, writer, advocate, runner and coach, crossed the final finish line Tuesday night, dying in the arms of his loving wife and daughter at their home in Hawaiian Paradise Park. He was 65.
Joseph’s life matched his running philosophy: Never take shortcuts, an…d never back down. He tackled the Volcano Marathon the same way he tackled his opponents on the chess board, lazy Waiakea High cross country runners, or the governor in an on-camera confrontation — he’d huff and puff, and raise his voice, and run directly at the source of the problem. Students rarely beat him in chess, and when they did he’d demand a rematch.
The Big Dog only half lived up to his nickname, which he earned during a basketball game years ago. He was tall only by Hawaii’s standards, and lean, but he was all alpha dog. He wasn’t the fastest runner in the race, but he was the most bull-headed.
He set high standards, but those demanding traits served him well as a coach of many Waiakea High cross country and track teams. He only had five rules, and as judge and jury he sentenced violators to 25 pushups for each violation. No swearing. No rolling down the hill. No sitting during practice. No gay jokes. And no cutting the course.
“You’re only cheating yourself when you cut the course” was one of his mantras, one that many former runners carried with them into their own lives: No shortcuts. Take the hard way. Give it your all, and finish the job.
In 1998 when a runner, Sixto Padamada, collapsed with a stroke during a warmup, Joseph asked the team to dedicate the rest of the season to Padamada. They did, and had a breakout year. When in 1999 the team had a real chance of breaking Hawaii Preparatory Academy’s 26-year stranglehold on the boys cross country title, Joseph promised to shave his head if the team won. They fell short by two points, and the runners kept their end of the bet and shaved their own heads.
Although only seven runners mattered in cross country team scoring, Joseph never held tryouts and he never cut anybody for injury, arrest (a funny story for another day) or lack of athletic ability. The only way a runner could leave the team was for lack of will. As a result, the Warriors fielded a team of dozens of runners. The team bus was so full that parents organized their own system to transport runners to race courses around the island. As the coach of an outdoor sport in the nation’s rainiest city, he once said a lightning storm was the only reason he would cancel practice.
Before Joseph became famous as a writer with his more than 500 “Running with the Big Dog” columns in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, he was a legendary endurance runner, logging tens of thousands of miles during his lifetime. He competed in marathons across the state and the nation. No marathon or ultra marathon was too difficult for him. In later years he moved from being a racer to a race director, becoming the organizer of the Big Island International Marathon and many other smaller races.
He taught modern Hawaiian history at Waiakea and developed a penchant for local politics. Upon retirement, he became president of the HSTA-Retired. He ran once for Puna’s seat on the Hawaii County Council. He bonded with Harry Kim, a former cross country runner from another era, and became the only person in recent history to be appointed to two county commissions simultaneously — the Cost of Government Commission and the county Ethics Commission.
Although humility was never a strong personality trait in someone who called himself the “Big Dog,” he was humbled and a little befuddled on July 3, 2012, when a former runner turned news reporter (ahem) secretly arranged for Puna’s representative on the County Council to present him with a certificate honoring his life’s work.
True to form, he fought his impending death and was able to hold it off until his daughter could return from study in Taiwan. His spirit was unsinkable even as his body failed. When 500 high school cross country runners who barely knew him wore gray ribbons at a meet last season at Kamehameha Schools, he was sitting at the finish line, waiting to interview the winners. He wrote his “Running with the Big Dog” column until the cancer and the chemotherapy robbed his ability to type.
Joseph’s family wishes to remember him as he was before his cancer; healthy and active.
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