When Lāhainā Intermediate health teacher Nate Kahaiali‘i signed up to run in the 2023 Chicago Marathon for the Red Cross ten months ago, he didn’t realize that the race would later come with added significance.
On Aug. 8, Kahaiali‘i evacuated his Lāhainā home with no more than a pair of running shoes, some clothes and a few personal belongings before it was eventually consumed by the wildfire.
The Red Cross arrived shortly after the devastation to assist his neighbors with shelter, food and supplies.
For a moment during that time, he considered withdrawing from the race but with support from family and friends, he knew he had to keep going for his community.
“It comes full circle in a way that I wasn’t expecting” Kahaiali‘i said. “Before the fires, I was raising money because of all the good work that they do.” He finished the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 8, exactly two months after he lost his house.
For the race, he made a shirt to represent Lāhainā. The shirt is red and dons an image of Maui with “Malama Maui” and “Lāhainā Strong” surrounding it in gold print. On the back, an ‘ulu design to represent the historical tree of Lāhainā and the phrase “ka malu ‘ulu o Lele” – also a line in the Lāhaināluna alma mater which in Hawaiian means, “the shaded breadfruit grove of Lele.” Bordering the design are the names of the four public schools that were affected by the fires: Lāhaināluna High, Lāhainā Intermediate, Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary and King Kamehameha III Elementary.
“Having the ‘ulu print with the schools serving as a border is to help strengthen the focus on the rebuild and support that is needed for not just the community, but also the support and strength the children will need moving forward who go to these schools in Lāhainā,” he said.
Kahaiali‘i attended Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary, Lāhainā Intermediate and Lāhaināluna High. His dad, Wilmont Kahaiali‘i, is a longtime kumu at King Kamehameha III Elementary School.
“Lāhainā is a very small, tight-knit community,” he said. “We’re not going to give up on each other, we’re family.”
The shirt, which was intended to be exclusive for him to use during the Chicago Marathon, received a lot of interest from others. His family encouraged him to print more shirts.
“I’m going to make it for everyone but it has to be tied to a fundraiser,” he said. “I’m not doing it to make money for myself, it’s for the community.”
So he did turn it into a fundraiser. The shirts start at $30 and will be available early November. Kahaiali‘i pledges that 100% of the sales is going toward Lāhainā families impacted by the fires. He is working with the Lāhainā Strong foundation for the monies to go directly to the families.
Even though his family is one of the many that were impacted by the fires, he won’t claim any of the money. He said they’ve received an outpour of support from family and friends since the disaster. “This is to benefit others who may not have donations coming their way,” he said.
As for running, he plans to continue to do marathons to raise awareness for the Lāhainā community. In December, he’ll run the Honolulu Marathon and the Tokyo Marathon next April.
“I’m going to represent Lāhainā and continue to push that awareness that Lāhainā needs your help,” he said.
Kahaiali‘i likens the process to rebuilding Lāhainā like running a marathon.
“Marathons are long but the finish line is there. You just gotta put one foot in front of the other,” he said. “Lāhainā will get there. It’s going to take time and resilience. But with a lot of support from friends and strangers, we’ll get there.”