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Aitutaki Marathon epitomises Kia Orana spirit

Saturday 25 March 2023 | Written by Supplied | Published in Other Sports, Sports


Aitutaki Marathon epitomises Kia Orana spirit
2023 BSP Aitutaki Marathon winner local man Chris Stansel (left) bolts off the start line of the race along with fellow runners husband and wife Thomas and Jillian Mendoza and Don McKenzie. TURAMA/23032450

Aitutaki aroa and the Kia Orana spirit was the magic that carried 29 runners across possibly one of the hottest marathon courses on the running calendar at the 2023 BSP Aitutaki Marathon.

The breath-taking beauty of the tropical island marathon course coupled with the overwhelming care and generosity of the people of Aitutaki was beyond what newcomers to the race had expected – the core reason regular runners return every year.

For the 12 international runners, taking part in the 2023 BSP Aitutaki Marathon was all about the experience of the destination and the unforgettable moments.

Joined by 17 local based runners, including eight Araura College athletes only enhanced the genuine Cook Islands experience for the runners.

The Awesome Aitutaki college students that trained and prepared for the Aitutaki Marathon all finishing the race and brining the Araura magic to the annual marathon. TURAMA/23032452

It’s been a year of rebuilding for the fledging event that was created in 2018 by Turama Pacific Travel Group and the magic experienced by both visitors and locals this year is sure to generate greater interest from overseas visitors combined with more scheduled flights to the islands. 

Early Tuesday morning, six brave athletes lined up for the Aitutaki Marathon experience including two American runners who had waited three years to run the race, one runner from the UK plus two Kiwis.

New local Chris Stansel who has relocated to Rarotonga for work and the local winner of the 2022 Round Rarotonga Road Race wasn’t missing out on a chance to add another local title win.

So all bets were on him to win but in sport – anything can happen.

What did happen was Chris set such a blazing starting pace he surprised volunteers out on the course who were heading to their aid stations on time. The volunteers were being overtaken by Chris who planned to cross the finish line in not only a speedy time but to beat the heat that was guaranteed for the day!

Aitutaki Marathon 10km champion Rupeni Mataitoga not only won the race but shaved 1 minutes of his previous time and probably because right on his tail in the race was 2022 marathon winner and Andrew Logan who finished 2nd just 2 seconds behind Rupeni! TURAMA/23032453

Excitement spread that a new record could be set – however at the 20km mark Chris rolled his ankle but an injury he didn’t feel was major enough to stop his race.

It may have slowed his pace but not his determination to win and finish in a good time which he did in 4 hours 12 minutes and 46 seconds to win the 2023 BSP Aitutaki Marathon race.

Originally from Florida, Chris says he’s used to heat but the heat of Aitutaki was for sure much more intense than what he thought was hot in Florida.

He now sets his sights on other global running events including the September Round Raro Road Race.

American Thomas Mendoza finished second in 4:56:59 after waiting nearly three years to run along with his wife Jillian who placed fifth overall.

Third place went to first female home Lucy Holden from the UK in her 34th marathon race.

Also, on the 42km start line was without a doubt one of the most inspirational person on course – 74-year-old Monica Tate from the Hokianga running her 145th marathon!

The true caring nature of Cook Islanders was on full display as the 30-plus student and adult volunteers took personal care of each and every runner on course – and for Monica the youth of Aitutaki adopted her as their mama and as the heat of the day intensified and the 8-hour cut of time loomed – all support and care was showered on the veteran runner.

With the dedicated help of young Aitutaki lad Toru Hewitt who was right by her side every step ensuring she was cooled down with water right up to the finish line.

At the finish line it was only fitting for young Toru to welcome Monica across the line with her parau shell finishers medal, a cold nu and a huge hug epitomising the spirit of the people of Aitutaki.

For his amazing care and support young Toru was honoured as hero of the Aitutaki Marathon.

In the 21km, German runner Ronald Braun knew his chances of winning was possible with just four runners in the category.

Local Aitutaki man Tata Samuel, who placed second in the course in 2022 decided to join last minute and see if he could do better and he did – by winning the category in 2:18:22 followed by Ronald who wasn’t too disappointed about not winning but thrilled when he received a second placers trophy in the modelled on the Aitutaki island silhouette.

In the 10km run – it was all about the speed!

With three-time 10km champion Rupeni Mataitoga on the start line along with 2022 marathon winner Andrew Logan and the eight local Araura College students who revelled in the opportunity to race in a high calibre field.

In the end it was a sprint finish between Rupeni and Andrew with Rupeni just pipping Andrew across the line by 2 seconds in a time of 41:54 and shaving a minute of his 2022 time followed by Andrew in 41:56.

Third place went to 13-year-old Enrique Joseph in his second year of running the course and the inspiration behind the group of Araura students taking up running under the guidance of teacher Drollet Joseph who has been training the students for the event.

This includes the youngest runner on the course 11-year-old Tara Puapii who received a certificate for being the first open women runner home on the course.

Funds raised from the BSP Aitutaki Marathon including at the community airport runway fun run go towards the development of youth athletics on the island of Aitutaki.

The marathon race would not be the massive success it is in attracting visitors to the island, creating opportunities for local service suppliers, providing a pathway for youth athletics and inducing island pride right across the Aitutaki community without the support and funding through major sponsor Bank South Pacific (BSP).

As well as funding support, staff of BSP Aitutaki are true champions in their volunteer support at the main township aid station as well as ensuring the youth volunteers were well geared up in hats and shirts for their vital roles of caring for runners.

Meitaki maata BSP and also to associate sponsors of the marathon in Vodafone Cook Islands, Toa Moana and Tamanu Beach Resort Aitutaki.

Event creators and managers Turama Pacific Travel are overwhelmed with the amazing support from the people of Aitutaki who have not only taken ownership of the event but opened their hearts and homes to visitors who now leave our shores as family. 

  • Nuti Turama