The In-Person Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run is Back and Ready to Benefit the Youth of Kauai

May 17, 2021 by
Photo Credit: Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run (
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On September 18, hundreds of people will descend upon Kauai to participate in the eighth annual Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run. The 2020 iteration was entirely virtual due to COVID-19, but Aaron “Uncle Hoffy” Hoff is bringing back the in-person event. Once again, avid CrossFitters and supporters alike will be able to embrace pain together to raise money for the Keala Foundation.

Remind me: Hoff is a native of Kauai and someone that experienced firsthand the drug addiction problems that exist in the tropical paradise. He lost a decade of his life to drugs and alcohol but has since been sober for more than 20 years. He founded the Keala Foundation to help the youth of the island and then co-founded the Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run to raise money for those in need. 

  • “I got sober when I was early. So I saw it for what it was and started to create safe environments,” Hoff said. “For years before I even got to CrossFit, I had kids and friends that would come around me and hang out. And I would just show them the way of life that’s sober, you know, just show them how to do it, show them how to, like, deal with the issues and stuff.
  • “My goal has been to always create an environment that produces healthy kids that will be able to survive the drug problem over here. There’s all the environments that we that I grew up in were uncles, and Auntie’s, and, and there was really no structure. And you know, there’s drugs and alcohol was always intermixed with everything, there’s never been a really solid, sober environment. And nobody ever understood it

The Keala Foundation provides multiple services to the youth of Hawaii. They sponsor more than 500 kids through three facilities on Kauai, teaching them how several valuable lessons through CrossFit, surfing, motorcycle riding, and Jiu-Jitsu. These classes are free, and the Keala Foundation provides transportation and food for the participants. 

  • The UHTR is truly something special. The energy, impact, and beauty of the event is on a level you can’t find anywhere else,” Khalipa told the Morning Chalk Up. “What Aaron and the team accomplish for the event is only matched by the impact they are making on the youth of Kauai. The team is selfless and dedicated to improving lives. I can’t wait to be a part of It this year.”


A crucial impact: Making a positive impact on the youth of Hawaii is a noble goal, but doing so required some planning and assistance. Hoff and the Keala Foundation work with several names, including NCFIT founder Jason Khalipa and Aerobic Capacity mastermind Chris Hinshaw among others. However, the first person to get lend support was the former owner of CrossFit. 

  • “The first involved was Greg Glassman,” Hoff said. “He was the first one. He came over here — and I’m really good friends with the family — and I showed them and explained to them what was happening. And they’re like, ‘dude.’ Pretty much everybody who comes here and hangs out with me will get to see it firsthand.”

Bringing back the competition: With Hawaii on lockdown in 2020, it was not possible for the in-person UHTR to take place. The situation is different now that restrictions are easing regarding mandatory quarantine. Still, making the decision to bring back the in-person event was not something that Hoff did without serious consideration. 

  • “I think the best answer to that question for me is like the amount of drug addiction overdoses and suicides outweighs what COVID is brought,” Hoff said. The suicides, the overdoses that I deal with, the drugs, and the stuff. That’s way more of an epidemic than the COVID.”
  • “It’s a disservice if we don’t offer it,” added Sarah Braunsdorf, the executive director of the Keala Foundation. “And people can still participate virtually, and you better believe we’ll have two options. Just because we saw it be so successful for those that couldn’t come or have never come and it was their way to finally participate.”

A unique experience: When people arrive for the Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run, they immediately take part in unique experiences. They spend part of the week doing workouts with such names as Noah Ohlsen and Kara Saunders before watching Dan Bailey put on live music performances. The UHTR provides a unique experience that is not available anywhere else. 

  •  “The week leading up to the run is just incredible,” CrossFit Poipu coach Juan Gonzalez said. “You know, as an avid CrossFitter and huge fan of the sport, we just get some of the fittest people in the world that come here. Like, all the big names come. And, you know, we operate out of a CrossFit gym. We do a great job of just really hosting awesome workouts.” 
  • “Once you’re on the island, it’s a super small community. So it’s a really cool atmosphere to actually get to know the athletes. Because, you know, you go to the Games, you don’t ever talk to them or see them, they’re so focused. … When they’re here, and we have such a good relationship with them, they really let their guards down.”
  • “I wanted to do the UHTR because as CrossFitters we consistently commit to self-improvement, but oftentimes we fail to realize that such a commitment can be selfless rather than selfish,” added “Talking Elite Fitness” co-host Tommy Marquez. “Intertwined in that is an element of immersive service to others that is instrumental in ensuring our commitment can have a lasting impact outside of ourselves. 
  • “When you look at WHO the UHTR serves, WHAT it serves them with, and WHY, it’s clear that mission is in lockstep with our ethos as CrossFittters on a grander scale, and the tactile experience of the run and the activities on the island with the kids only further solidifies that. When serving others it is important to step into their world, interact with them face-to-face, and physically show up for them.”

Showcasing the hard work: There are several people that go to Kauai to help raise money by taking on the wild course, but one of the most important events takes place away from the trail run. The Keala Foundation picks about 60-75 kids, opting for the ones that have the best attitudes and a history of consistent effort. These kids then take part in a showcase event where they work out in front of everyone and provide a testament to the work being done on Kauai. 

  • “That is definitely one of my favorite parts of the whole entire week — everyone’s working out,” Gonzalez added. “And it just keeps building. We have this amazing showcase where we get to show our kids and our kids get to work out in front of everybody who’s here to support them. And it just it really just goes off.”
  • “We don’t program like silly workouts on that day. We push these kids, there’s always someone who throws up, you know, we push them to their absolute. Even athletes are almost like, you know, nervous for these kids. But it’s just a great place for the kids to grow.”

Worth the pain: The UHTR is not an easy event. There are two separate 5k courses, as well as a challenging 10k designed by Uncle Hoffy. The participants zigzag up Mount Kahili and overcome a variety of obstacles, including thin trails and streams. However, the suffering is a special unifying factor for the participants as they strive to raise money for the Keala Foundation.  

  • “If I’ve learned one thing in my life, it’s that our personal sufferings can be gifts,” said CrossFit Mayhem’s Tasia Percevecz. “And these gifts will lead to moments. These moments are opportunities to see others at the heart level and connect.” 
  • “There is so much connection in Kauai. So much goodness, light, and love amidst the suffering. And a huge part of that is the work that the Keala Foundation does for the kids on the island. I support the UHTR because when you race with the Keala Foundation, you help give the kids of Kauai a place to call home.” 

The grand finale of suffering: Those that have done the UHTR know that simply climbing the mountain and then descending is only part of the journey. There is another key piece at the very end. Participants slide into a massive mud hole and get covered from head to toe. 

  • “I always tell everyone, it’s either nice walk or the most brutal thing that’s gonna happen to you,” Hoff said. “I know what it’s like. It’s your choice, but it’s usually always brutal for everybody.”
  • “The trail run and the finale is is basically just how Hoff says ‘thank you,’” Gonzalez added. “Just making you do the most grueling thing possible. And then finishing you off, just covered in… and our mud is not any kind of mud. It’s mud that will be in your ears for a couple of weeks. You know, it takes several showers to get rid of.”

Bottom line: With Kauai opening back up to visitors, the stage is set for the Ultimate Hawaiian Trail Run. People can head to the tropical island and show support for an incredibly important foundation. The run won’t be easy or even remotely clean, but the participants can rest assured that they helped raise money to help the next generation. Even if they can’t make the trip to Kauai, they can still support the Keala Foundation by purchasing shirts, reading the organization’s literature, or making donations online. 

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