Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog

Okura listened to her Middle School teacher and just kept moving

Amy Okura

It all started from a physical education teacher at Hilo Union School according to Amy Okura and that is where she fell in love with movement.

“When I was in Hilo Union I loved the P.E. fitness tests we did and I raced with the boys at recess,” Okura said.  “I started playing AYSO when I was 10 and what I initially lacked in skill I made up for in determination and enthusiasm.”

Today Okura works as a legal assistant at Okura and Associates where she occasionally finds her job quite stressful.

“I specialize in getting Medicaid to pay nursing home costs for our clients, this tends to be a very emotional and financially stressful time for people as they are watching their loved ones go though injuries, illness, and transitioning into a nursing home, which without the help of Medicaid cost most people about $12,0000 a month.”

Okura has a lot deadlines to meet which makes her job that much more stressful. 

“There is unexpected turn of events to deal with on short term notice,” she said.  “Sometimes I have long days, but my biggest challenge is to always remember to be patient and kind to others who are going through an entirely different stress.”

Okura remembers the advice she was given at middle school P.E. class which was to relieve stress just keep on moving.

“My P.E. teachers all taught me that movement while playing is the best way to relive the outside influences of stress.” Okura said.

Play she does, Okura favorite activity is swing dancing.

“I love to dance,” she said.  “I dance Lindy Hop and other variations of swing dancing with the Hilo Hep Cats; I’ve also started dancing the Argentine Tango with Tango en las Rocas.

Besides dance Okura is going through a 12 week fitness program with her own fitness coach.

“I am in a three month fitness program with Stefanie Basso,” Okura said.  “I am in no way aiming to be a competitive figure builder, I just want to get stronger and feel better about myself.”

The program currently has her doing strength training 4 days a week and cardio 6 days a week.

“For the sake of maintaining balance in my life, my ideal week includes 1 to 2 nights of dancing and about 3 days of running and working out,” Okura said.  “Actually, an ideal week would include 7 nights of dancing, but I’m trying to be realistic.”

For diet Okura admits to liking meat with just a little fruit and vegetables.

“Everybody responds differently to foods,” she said.  “I truly believe that the joy of life is enhanced by eating beautiful, flavorful food.”

Some of the foods that delight Okura’s palate are Brussels sprouts squash, nuts, fish, and quality local grass-fed beef.  She also loves dark chocolate, wine, cheese, micro/draft beer, and French fries.

“As long as I stay active and eat a mainly clean diet, my body gives me honest feedback about how it feels with what I’m putting into it,” Okura said.

Okura is trying to stay active; she even entered her first race this past March.

“I started running again this past year, I was so slow when I first started,” she said.

“I was extremely anemic and my heart couldn’t handle the aerobic activity,” Okura said.  “With the consistent encouragement of several friends and a lot if iron supplements, I slowly started to run more often.” 

Like most runners Okura likes to run with friends to push her farther and at others time she like the solitude of running alone.

“I run alone for my peaceful meditation time,” Okura said. “I like running with friends to push my pace and distance.”

Friends can keep you from falling off pace, and in Okura’s case it could lead to your first organized race, the Hilo Half Marathon held the past March.

“My only goal for that race was to not walk any portion of the 13.1 mile race, and I didn’t,” Okura said. 

Since March Okura has been doing a variety of events, including the Volcano Rainforest 10 K run.

“I was pleased with my performance at the Rainforest 10K and can hardly wait to push myself again at the next race,” Okura said. 

She doesn’t have to wait long as Okura and several of her friends have signed up for the Hana Relays on Maui.

“I am already looking forward to the next race after that and I believe the Great Aloha Run is in February and then I’ll give the Hilo Half another try, setting my target time a little higher,” she said.

Okura’s exercise related goals are fairly simple; “I just want to do better and better and have more and more fun with it,” she said.

She’s on track for achieving both her goals.

“I love the way working out and running keeps my body fit and healthy,” Okura said.  “I love the quality of sleep that I get when I am active.  I love the way the endorphins feel.”

And it doesn’t end there as the list of energy packed benefits is limitless.

As her P.E. middle school teacher from Hilo was right in that there are many good reasons for keeping the body moving.

“My moods are less subject to forces outside of myself, my personal relationships are healthier, easier, and more enjoyable,” Okura said.  “Exercising brings a better me to the table, in whatever I am doing.”

And someday should you happen to see a tall, thin jogger remember to say ‘woof’ and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.’

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Profiles | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Active in the Performing Arts, Jessica Takayama stays Healthy and Fit


When you hear about physical fitness in high school the mind is quick to jump to the traditional sports of baseball, basketball, football and cross county just to name a few that come to mind but for local girl Jessica Takayama there were more alternatives.

“I didn’t play traditional sports in high school,” Takayama said.  “I was active in the performing arts – drama, dance and music in which our body is our instrument and fine tuned as such.”  She is a Konawaena graduate, class of 2000.

Takayama received her induction into what she calls the ‘soft sports’ swimming, ballet and other dance classes between the ages of 5 to 7.

Today and as a result of her early beginnings she is the co-founder of Safety Pin Productions, LLC, and a Hawaii Island performing arts organization.

“I also teach a culinary arts class through the local non-profit Big Island Wellness Solutions,” she said.  “We currently work with Big Island Substance Abuse Council bringing culinary arts to their Therapeutic Living Program.”

This busy young professional recently turned 30 and her spark of energy can be seen in the many things that she’s been involved with for our community.

Additionally, Takayama is involved as the Public Outreach Coordinator for Doctor George Kosmides at Total Health Hawaii at the Naniloa Resort.

“I book Dr. Komides for free Wellness Workshops in which he shares his research and answers health questions,” Takayama said.  “I try to instill an open communication environment in the workplace, whether with my students, patients, or colleagues.  Clear communication reduces stress between individuals.”

Takayama maintains her own physical routine to continue that balance.

“I find it important to start every morning with stretches or yoga to shift my body from resting to activity,” Takayama said.  “Having a network of other active people helps me to stay focused, encourages my activity and enjoyment too.”

She will switch from a variety of activities to maintain that balance.

“I will stretch daily and take fencing classes on Tuesday and Thursday. I reserve Wednesday and Fridays for paddling,” she said.

Paddling has become the first group sport that Takayama has participated in and has found that working with a team is extremely pleasurable.

“I only started paddling in May of this year and it seems to melt the stress of my endless to do list away,” Takayama said.  “I have found it both exhilarating to learn to move 6 other people as one.  It requires a lot of concentration.”

Takayama will switch from jogging to ply metrics, strength training, swimming, or other activities on other days.

For Takayama fencing is another sport that has captivated her.

“Fencing has me intrigued since learning a stage combat type in high school.  While it is a sport of a dueling nature, I find that the biggest competition is with me in being aware of my stance and executing moves properly,” Takayama said.

Jogging has become another favorite for Takayama because, “it really is an individual sport so that one can feel free to push oneself freely.”

“My main goal is to get at least one hour of activity a day,” she said.  “Even doing chores at home counts!”

Here fitness even extends to what she eats at home.

Takayama tries to make whole food choices, non-processed foods.

“I eat more fruits and veggies, and have more lean protein,” she said.  “I cook for myself as much as I can, but I do have the occasional fast food indulgence.”

And what exercise related goal has Takayama set for herself?

Since losing 95 pounds over the past 2 years and keeping it off, Takayama would like to hit that magical 100 pound mark.

“My current goal  is to just get better at being physical and to improve every day,”  she said.  “Whether it be lengthening my stride, my stroke while paddling with the team, or putting more precision in my parry, I just want to feel good about my own improvement.”

And Takayama has the right attitude about fitness.  It is all about taking small steps to improvement. It’s about taking charge of your life and taking small strides everyday to notice where your health benefits you the most.

“In the past I focused on weight loss but got less enjoyment that way. When something becomes fun you are more likely to stick with it,” she said.  “However, I have accomplished that goal and I am now looking forward to making fitness more fun.”

Takayama grew up with the Performing Arts as her base and has that limited her from no exposure in the traditional sports?

“There seems to be a competitive nature among athletes, which can be motivating sometime, but a source of disappointment at others,”  Takayama said.  “I feel that no person can be better than another person, we can only be better than our former selves.”

Jessica Takayama brings an interesting perspective to our East Hawaii community and makes a welcomed addition.

And someday should you happen to see a walk or jogger climbing Shower Drive and the hills of Hawaii Paradise Park remember to say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Profiles | , , | 4 Comments

Determined Kona woman, Dawn Velasquez, can do anything

A little sibling rivalry can be a good thing and a healthy way of getting oneself into better shape.  This has worked well for Dawn Velasquez while she was growing up with her younger brother, and has turned her into a lifelong runner.

In 1991 Velasquez had been asked by a friend to run in her first race, a 4 miler sponsored by the American Lung Association.

“I had spent the last couple of years dealing with a mild but developing asthmatic condition and I was hoping that running would strengthen my lungs,” Velasquez said.

The race she is talking about was called Superkids, and many other races would follow as a result of the positive outcome.

“My brother Ke’o was also entered in Superkids and although 4 years my junior he was always markedly faster,” she said.  “It was also the only race where we came in to within 50 feet of each other and it got me hooked on running.”

Velasquez was always an active child and can’t remember a time when she was not interested in sports activity.

“Playing in the outdoors was a huge part of my childhood,” she said.  “Nothing serious or intensely competitive, mind you, just unstructured, informal, fun types of sports.”

It also meant playing baseball with rubber slippers for bases, skateboarding, volleyball, mountain biking and horseback riding.

When she was 11 years old the family got a tiny little 8 inch color television, and Velasquez developed a love for watching ice skating.

You’re probably wondering how all this was possible?  Well, Velasquez was home schooled from first grade through 11th grade and graduated a year early.

“My lack of traditional education meant that I did not participate in the standard sports,” she said.  “Instead I started hula classes, continued trail riding and formed my own roller hockey team called  the Acres Bladers.”

Today Velasquez is an office manager for a real estate appraisal company in Kona.

“It is quite a change from my  past, which included 8 years on an organic farm and another 6 years in the construction and landscaping industry.

Because her office appraisal job goes from Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4 pm,  barring office emergencies, Velasquez finds it easy to do structured workouts.
Monday through Friday she does farm work from 6am to 8 am, “before my real job begins,” she explains with a wide grin.

Monday and Wednesdays  are dedicated to paddling practice.

Tuesday evening its hula practice; Thursday evening a run “if I’m not working in the Master Gardener demonstration garden or taking care of landscaping events.”

Saturdays are canoe racing or distance training, plus usually landscaping work, and Sunday’s “I ride my horse if at all possible.”

And of course it all starts off with putting the right fuel to get this busy profession all started and to keep her going throughout the day.

“My diet is not terribly strict, but I am conscious of what I eat, since I’m not always a meat eater.  I consciously try to get enough protein through multiple sources,” she said.  “I really like fresh salads with a variety of toppings.”

Velasquez would prefer organic or at least natural foods.  She also does indulge in the normal vices but believes in everything in moderation.

“I might have coffee a couple of days a week, have an alcoholic drink on the weekend, generally opt for water instead of soda and indulge in my sweet tooth here and there and I don’t smoke” she said.

If she approaches a competitive event the rules change and she gets stricter with her intake.

“If I have a competition approaching I am extra careful to get my nutrition and fluids,” she said.  “If I train too hard and don’t eat properly my body is quick to let me know.”

And Velasquez reflects on having a younger brother to help push her through those difficult times.

“My running career started off rather haphazardly due to medical reasons and the desire to do what my friends did.  My brother Ke’o helped me a lot as I was never unusually talented but I held my own in local races,” Velasquez said.  “I think it help a lot to have a sibling to train with.”

Ke’o and his sister tried to motivate each other and from that they would enter every 5K race that came along.

As the brother and sister matured, so did their goals, as both would enter their first marathon in 1988 (26.2 mile distance). 

It became the springboard for a great sibling relationship as both fell in love with running.

Dawn Velasquez did the Volcano Wilderness Run’s 10 miler ten years in a row before the National Park closed it down.

Another goal was accomplished when Velasquez wanted to paddle through the Molokai channel and so she did.

She is a determined person who sets her sites on something then goes out and achieves it.

What’s up next for this young woman?  

“I want to haul a backpack all around the summit of Haleakala, now that I have been every main peak around the Big Island.  I would also like to go back to taking yoga class once a week.  It feels so beneficial after a tense day.”

And yes, Ironman may be in her future.

Who knows, nothing can stop this determined woman!

And someday should you happen to come passing a retired public school teacher jogging around Hilo remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

September 17, 2012 Posted by | Profiles | , , | 1 Comment

Having a supportive spouse can lead to a regular fitness program

Having a supportive wife and a training partner can make a world of a difference in one’s health and fitness endeavors.  That is the type of spouse Jonah Waters has to inspire him to lose 75 pounds and more importantly he has been successful in keeping that weight off.

Waters is a huge sports fan (no pun intended) and attended Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama and participated in many different sports but found his calling in golf.

“I golfed all 4 years of high school for the Warriors,” Waters said.  “During my high school days I could pretty much eat anything I wanted to without gaining any weight.”

But things changed for Waters when he became an adult, he found the weight beginning to stick onto his body with time.

“I used to love to play basketball, but can’t do that anymore as age has taken a toll,” he said.

Waters has been a teacher for 24 years and is currently an English teacher at Keaau Middle School.

“I have been teaching language arts and reading at KMS since 2000,” he said.  “When I came to Keaau I weighed 290 pounds and I now weigh 215.”

Waters admits to never realizing the extent of his weight gain because when he was younger he had an easier time taking the pounds off and had a metabolism that burned those extra calories with less effort.

Waters is married and has three daughters ages 25, 21, and 12.

“I gained weight prior to and during my wife’s last pregnancy,” Waters said.  “When our youngest daughter was about one or two, I decided to dedicate myself into getting in shape.”

Waters included his wife into his mission of losing weight and has found himself a regular training partner.

“My wife Jean and I work out seven days a week,” Waters said.  “We are in the gym from Monday through Friday at 4:45 am and on weekends we sleep in and are in the gym by 8 am,”

Waters rotates between a cardio and weight lifting program on alternating days and in combination with diet has been successful in taking the weight off and keeping it off.

Much of his cardio workout comes from the elliptical machine because Waters finds it easier on his joints, especially on the knees.

“Lately I’ve been doing a lot more cardio because it feels good,” he said.

“The combination with a diet that consists of lean protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains I found that the weight just came off,” he said.  Within six months I lost about 60 pounds and it has now been 2 and half years.”

It should be noted that Waters wife, Jean, has never had a weight problem and she will go to the gym each day in support of her husband and to get a good workout in.

“Exercise and diet has never been a quick fix for me,” Waters said.  “It is a change in lifestyle, a total commitment to be a healthier and fit person.”

Waters has also bought himself a juicer and prefers to extract the nutritious juice out of carrots, beets, and other vegetables.

“Although we are far from perfect, we really try to eat healthy, especially as we get older,” Waters said.  “It is also good for us to encourage each other.”

Waking at 4:30 in the morning during the week is a difficult task in itself but when you have a supportive partner to encourage you to do so it makes it a little easier.

“We encourage each other,” Waters said.  “There are times that she has to drag me out of bed to get me to the gym.”

The relationship that the Waters have established reminds me of what Gloria Steinem said “Being married is like having somebody permanently in your corner, it feels limitless not limited.”

The Waters are blessed to have such encouragement within the family which is one of the secrets to staying with an exercise routine and a healthy diet.

“The benefits of all of this are feeling strong and healthy,” Waters said.  “Also even though we get up early, we have enough energy to deal with whatever comes during the day.”

Since the exercise routine is well established in the Waters household if that pattern is broken there becomes another factor for the family to endure.

“There is also guilt when I don’t go to the gym,” Waters said.  Working out is fun and we enjoy doing it together.”

But there is a difficult side to maintaining a steady course.

“Working out is fun, but watching what you eat is difficult,” Waters said.  “At least for me!”

Johan Waters is very fortunate in finding a supporting spouse that will go to the gym at 4:30 in the morning during the work week, especially since she doesn’t have a weight problem.

I am equally fortunate to have found an exercise minded spouse that shares in the joys of being healthy and fit.

Of course it isn’t a requirement to find a partner who will wake up before the sun rises to get up and get going, but it sure does help.

And someday should you happen to see a lucky man come jogging through the back roads of Hawaiian Paradise Park remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

September 11, 2012 Posted by | Profiles | , , | 1 Comment

Richard Baker and the ILWU working to improve the standard of living

Richard Baker

Labor Day means many different things to different people, but to me it means an opportunity for social mobility.

My great grandparents were foreign immigrants from Madeira and the Azores who came to Hawaii in the 1880’s for a better life.

Part of their dreams hinged on the wages they earned and their ability to make a living wage and that is the tie into Labor Day.  

For many immigrants, such as my grandparents, it was the ILWU that fought for a living wage for those that worked our plantations.

Today I honor one such person, who like my parents and I, grew up poor and had a rocky beginning.

Richard Baker never had the opportunity to play high school sports at Hilo High School because it was more important for him to begin working at age 14 to help his family financially.

“My dad was getting into raising cattle so I was able to ride my first horse when I was five,” Baker said.  “When I got older I went into bull riding.”

When he turned 14 Baker’s father had a horse fall on him shattering his leg.

“My dad never got the proper medical attention and from then on would always walk with a sever limp,” Baker said.

This 1964 graduate of Hilo High worked on Lujan’s Ranch and participated in rodeos throughout his teenage years.

“My father only had 10 to 15 head of cattle and I worked hard for him and earned some extra money working on Lujan’s Ranch,” Baker said.

Baker’s humble beginnings were at the Hilo Coast Processing Plant which is where he learned about being in a union and what unions can do for workers.

“I started out as the ILWU’s unit editor and learned much from a man named Dave Thompson,” Baker said.

Baker is a true success story, starting out at the bottom of the union hierarchy and working his way up to being the Division Director in charge of the Big Island.

“I didn’t realize how much stress and what an enormous burden it was to be the Division Director,” Baker said.

Baker tried to relive so of that stress by taking out a membership at Spencer’s Gym.

“Exercise makes me feel better,” he said.  “But with a gym membership I wasn’t’ all that consistent and eventually found that for me there was a better way,” Baker said.

The loss of consistency came as a result of Baker being hit by a car and needing to go through rehab.

“I didn’t need surgery, but it changed the way I did things and it ended up turning into a better way for me,” Baker said.

That better way for Baker turned out to be buying his own home equipment.

“I invested in a treadmill, weight sets, stretch bans and a medicine ball,” he said.

As a result Baker has become more able to work out on a regular basis.

“I will run on the treadmill four times a week and shift into weights on my off days,” he said.

Baker will stay on the treadmill for a minimum of 40 minutes to get a good cardio workout then switch to weight to work his upper body.

Along the way Baker developed Kidney Stones and had to modify his diet for the better.

“I now drink lots of water, which can be a problem if I’m in a business meeting as I need to take lots of restroom breaks,” Baker said.

This division director tries to eat oatmeal and cereal for breakfast and has reduced his consumption of rice which in return has resulted in some weight loss.

“I will eat more raisins, prunes and nuts to take better care of my body,” he said.

He is also on cholesterol medication which he attributes to heredity.

“Certain things you just can’t avoid as my father had high cholesterol and one of my sisters also has it, but I do what I can through diet as not to make it any worse,” he said.

Baker retired from the ILWU on June 1 of this year but is looking to stay active through retiree organizations which work towards maintaining benefits.

“I am currently working with the Hawaii Alliance for Retired Americans to see how we can join together for the betterment of all retirees,” Baker said.

“I may have retired from active service with the ILWU but the battle continues to bring equal opportunities for all our citizens and retirees.  The retirees are the most vulnerable group as their fate is left to politicians,” Baker said.

On this Labor Day I salute all those working hard for the advancement of working people everywhere.

This was the true meaning of setting aside a holiday once a year in appreciation of those that Labor to make this county great.

Richard Baker is just one of many people that have dedicated their lives to the Labor Movement.  And Baker hasn’t abandoned the fact that it is necessary to take care of his body first to ensure that he can take care of others.

 And someday should you happen to see a retired HSTA member jogging the streets of East Hawaii remember to say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Profiles | , | 2 Comments