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January 13, 2018

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Why is Group Therapy Important?

By:  Genell Howell, Primary Therapist

Every week, therapists at Pacific Quest lead two group therapy sessions with students in the field.  Why is this form of therapy important?  This setting allows for greater accessibility of students to share some of the issues that they’ve been holding on to as well as develop greater trust within the group.  In addition, it helps students develop a psychoeducational understanding of some of the areas they struggled with at home.

Genell Howell, MA, CSAC

I recently led a session with an adolescent Kuleana group, where we began to examine the concept of our life narrative through art therapy depicting peaks and valleys.  In this group, we used pastels and paper and drew mountains to signify the wonderful aspects of our lives, and valleys or gulches depicted the more difficult times. Students were given creative reign and interpretation to create as many canyons, rigid cliffs and elated peaks within their artistic depictions. We discussed how the peaks represented the high points of their life and the valleys the more challenging times.  Once students created their masterpieces we processed the experience of creating our images, as well as interpreted what they signified to us.

By creating a narrative that allows students to reflect on their life story they build greater emotional resiliency, introspection, and rational detachment. Instead of staying stuck in limiting beliefs such as “it will always be this way” or “it will never get better” students reflected on the ebb and flow of life as well as ways to modulate the highs and lows through healthy coping strategies.  Some of the initial coping strategies that we discussed was what worked to pull one through the harder times in their lives prior to attending Pacific Quest, and what they were using now that they were in the program. Some of the new strategies included working in the garden, incorporating mindfulness, and learning how to play the ukulele.

Due to the forming aspect of the group we were able to incorporate some of Dr.Brené Brown’s psychoeducational research on shame resiliency.  According to Dr. Brown, “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”  Dr. Brown’s shame resiliency theory bases the ability to gain connection by practicing authenticity within healthy prosocial communities. In the art of developing shame resiliency there is greater movement towards compassion and self empathy and movement away from fear, blame and disconnection.   Students were able to define how they often hide their emotions and life experiences due to the shame of feeling different or the fear of rejection.

In addition, we discussed the importance of being in a prosocial community where one can feel heard, authentic, and have a sense of belonging, which is a vital component to the healing process. The seed of vulnerability was planted as an area of growth as they continue to form a positive peer group throughout their stay, which is a vital part of the program.

See Dr. Brené Brown’s Ted Talk here:

The Power of Vulnerability

July 11, 2017

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Severance and Intention – A Family Rite of Passage

By Mike Sullivan, Alumni & Family Services Director

I recently presented at the Rocky Mountain Regional NATSAP conference in Whitefish, Montana. Before I continue, I will have to profess that this was one of the most beautiful settings for a conference – situated in a lush mountain valley near the entrance to Glacier National Park.  Further, the conference drew many attendees from therapeutic programs scattered throughout Northern Idaho and Montana, lending to an intimate and rich networking event.  The seminars were stellar and I hope to return to this conference again next year.

Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC

The conference specifically targeted the theme of “addressing family systems work,” which especially piqued my interest due to my career focus in family therapy and parent involvement in the treatment process.  I chose to present on experiential techniques for promoting a “rite of passage” experience for families, wherein, the family collaborates in deepening awareness into maladaptive patterns and ruts that they wish to sever from, and works together to set goals and intentions of positive characteristics and communication styles they want to work toward.  I opened the presentation by defining aspects of a rite of passage. I then shared a case vignette, and highlighted a particular families’ process engaging in family therapy and an actual garden ceremony.  The presentation concluded with the audience breaking into small groups where I assigned them to brainstorm experiential approaches that they utilize to engage families in ROP type experiences, and report back to the group at large with ideas generated.  It ended up being a neat combination of networking and idea sharing across models, allowing each professional to walk away with applicable tools.

I have always been intrigued with the role a rite of passage can play on a family systems level. Outdoor therapy provides a seemingly paradoxical model.  The identified patient (adolescent or young adult) is sent thousands of miles from home, isolated from access to family.  The child’s parents describe the deterioration of communication, care, and respect within the family, and trust that the outdoor model will enhance family relationships.  Some would question how effective this model can be; that sequestering a child in the woods can’t possibly address the complexity of the family system.  So therein lay the paradox – how does the outdoor program address the family system, with members of the family spread out across the country?

Outdoor programs nationwide have invested significant resources in bolstering family treatment, recognizing that individual treatment gains quickly diminish if the primary caregivers aren’t growing alongside their child. Outdoor therapy, when applied correctly, leverages the geographical distance to first foster individual growth and then reunite the family in an intentional manner to facilitate growth needed to sustain therapeutic gains.

As the NATSAP outcome study gains momentum and the sample size continues to grow, quantitative data supports claims that family systems benefit from outdoor therapy.  The Family Assessment Device, a trusted measure developed to identify problem areas in family functioning (Epstein, et. al, 1983), has demonstrated that families engaging in outdoor therapy make clinically significant progress.  This is remarkable and leads to the question – what factors contribute to that success? Having worked in outdoor therapy for 10+ years, I have observed the power of engaging families in a rite of passage experience.

A traditional “rite of passage” entails a ceremony, clearly marking the transition from one life stage to another. Individuals identify “severance,” or an “old story” that they wish to leave behind.  This includes limiting self-beliefs and maladaptive behaviors.  The individual then focuses on cultivating the best version of themselves, their “new story,” or “intention.”  The process of identifying “severance” and “intention” increases insight and allows for specific goals to emerge.  Individual growth is critical, and this same phenomenon can be applied on a family level. Families collaborating in identifying maladaptive family patterns informs the process of family “severance,” and working together to name a shared vision of how the family strives to function creates a family “intention.”

Types of family “rite of passage” experiences may vary.  Valuable approaches include exploring themes of severance and intention in a family therapy context, followed with a ceremony to mark the transition.  The ceremony may be creating an art project, hiking a mountain, or overhauling an overgrown garden bed and planting seeds.  Many approaches exist. The activity itself is not important per se, but the meaning assigned to it.  The family should collaborate in identifying what the actual rite is, and assign meaning within a guided context.  The process of guiding a family rite of passage is extremely powerful and programs would benefit from continued dialog about family interventions to use in the short duration of outdoor therapy journey.

April 8, 2017

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Community Service at Punalu’u Pond

By: Nikki Robinson, Adolescent Program Master Guide

A group of Pacific Quest adolescent students recently joined the community at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach to participate in removing invasive plant species.  The pond at Punalu’u is a unique and rare ecosystem – an anchialine pool, it is connected to the ocean by an underground fissure, consists of brackish water, and the water level changes with the tides. Of all the anchialine pools on the planet, more than half of them can be found on the island of Hawai’i!  These ponds are home to a plethora of endemic plants and animals. Water hyacinth, an introduced and invasive species, thrives in this pond, crowding out native plants and animals, blocks sunlight into the pond, acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and threatens the existence of many species that only exist in this rare ecosystem.  Our job, pulling water hyacinth out of the pond, ensures the survival of endemic species to the island.

Pacific Quest community service pond clean up at Punalu'u

Removing water hyacinth from pond

Upon our arrival to the beach park, most students were eager to jump into the murky pond and work together with members of the community to eradicate the water hyacinth from an area of the pond.  As the rest of the group eased into the pond, students broke into groups.  Some students pushed clumps of hyacinth in towards the shore, while others threw the plants onto and away from the shore. The students spent time pausing to investigate the life forms in the pond. They discovered crayfish, tadpoles ducks, and the endangered nene. As they cleared the pond, they shared stories with community members; some of whom have lived in the region all of their lives. After some time working, the students were satisfied with the large area of cleared pond and ready to eat lunch.

Before lunch, we all jumped into the ocean to clean off. The cool water felt great after all the hard work we had done. The group circled up, had a round of thanks, and ate lunch over fun conversation topics. We enjoyed lunch and a view of palm trees, black sand, sea turtles, and beautiful blue waves. The weather was perfect for a day at the beach. After digesting for a while, the group decided to go for a refreshing swim in the ocean. Some choose to swim while others chose to float and chat.

Punalu’u was once a major residence for ancient Hawaiians. Hawaiians used this land for fishing and as a major source of fresh water. Punalu’u means “diving spring”, and sits on top of thousands of tons of fresh water flowing underground. During periods of drought, ancient Hawaiians would dive to the bottom of the ocean and fill “ipu” (gourds) with fresh water. Punalu’u is also home to endangered hawksbill sea turtles known as Honu’ea. Tourists come from far away to admire the fascinating creatures, but are warned: “do not touch or ride the turtles”. Students watched as turtles basked in the sun. They were awed by the turtles’ size and gentle nature, but made sure to give the turtles plenty of space.

After taking a nice swim, the students took some time to relax on the beach. The group played an organized bonding game and shared stories over the experience afterwards while loading up the van. We then headed back to Pacific Quest with about an hour to relax before it was time to hop into the gardens and kitchen to prepare dinner.

February 22, 2017

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PQ Offers First Annual Free CE Workshop for Hilo Community

By: Kristen Sutton, Therapist, & Lauren Meyer, Field Coordinator

Over 80 people attended a recent continuing education (CE) event offered by Pacific Quest (PQ). Community service and the ability to “give back” are essential cornerstones of the program, therefore, PQ offered this CE event free of charge to Big Island mental health professionals.  Attendees included psychologists, play/sandplay therapists, school counselors, social workers and other mental health professionals who had the opportunity to earn three continuing education credits through APA and NASW- Hawai`i Chapter.

Pacific Quest offers free continuing education event

Dr. Freedle presenting at CE Event in Hilo

Dr. Lorraine Freedle, PQ’s Clinical Director, presented “After the Towers Fell:  Healing Trauma with Sandplay Therapy, A Neuropsychological Perspective”. Dr. Freedle shared her expertise and passion for both Sandplay Therapy and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT). The presentation focused on the case study of Jimmy (pseudonym), who as a young boy lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.  At age 22, Jimmy was overwhelmed with OCD, alcohol abuse, guilt and shame and was unable to meet the demands of college.  As a result, he sought treatment at Pacific Quest where he engaged in sandplay therapy as part of a comprehensive, holistic treatment approach.

Workshop participants explored a neuropsychological perspective on how sandplay heals trauma and took a journey through Jimmy’s treatment process. They walked away with an understanding of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and a better awareness of the Sustainable Growth model utilized at Pacific Quest. The attendees were also touched by Jimmy’s story and created artwork to express how his story connected with their own experiences.

Lauren Meyer, PQ Field Coordinator, who was in attendance, comments, “Dr. Freedle took her audience through a journey of images Jimmy created in the sand. There were tears throughout the room, as well as in my own eyes, when we saw an image of ‘that fateful day’ through the eyes of an eight year old child.”  An intimate look at how Jimmy, as a young adult, accessed healing resources through meditation, horticultural activities and sandplay therapy followed.

“Multiple attendees spoke about feeling moved and inspired by the presentation and Dr. Freedle’s work,” noted Kristen Sutton, PQ Therapist. “One therapist in private practice shared her gratitude for being able to gather together with other professionals to discuss her passion – Sandplay. I left feeling grateful and privileged to do the work that we do.”

January 19, 2017

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Successful Collaboration with Sky’s the Limit Fund!

By: Mike Sullivan, Alumni and Family Services Director

Happy new year!  We are diving into another great year of collaboration with Sky’s the Limit Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk youth by providing grants, support and hope through outdoor therapy programs and beyond. Sky’s the Limit Fund has provided financial assistance to a large number of families over the years, and as a partner program, we have matched them dollar for dollar.  We enjoy giving back and catalyzing life changing experiences for families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access the amazing benefits of outdoor therapy.

Pacific Quest's collaboration with Sky's the Limit Fund is a Success

Mike Sullivan and colleagues at STLF event

2016 was a powerful year.  As a Sky’s the Limit Fund grant recipient said: “Outdoor therapy saved my son’s life.  I don’t know where we would be without Sky’s the Limit Fund and Pacific Quest.”  That young man arrived at Pacific Quest in a depressed and anxious state, and emerged with confidence and charisma.  The combination of evidence based therapy, whole person wellness, and this particular young man’s decision to grab life by the horns were all pivotal in his growth.  This is not an isolated story. Having attended several STLF fundraisers throughout 2016, I was able to witness grant recipients share their success stories in front of large crowds. These are tear jerking personal accounts of suffering and healing.  Thank you to Sky’s the Limit for making such things possible!

Looking Ahead

2017 is shaping up to be another great year.  Nancy Moore has completely transitioned into her new role as Executive Director, allowing STLF founder Rochelle Bochner to step away and focus her energy on her grandchildren.  Pacific Quest is excited to host Nancy and an STLF Chairperson on campus for a site tour later this spring, continuing to showcase the unique horticultural and wellness platform that makes PQ so powerfully therapeutic.

November 17, 2016

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Announcing Full Time Integrative Psychiatrist: Robert Voloshin, DO

Pacific Quest is pleased to announce a new member of the Clinical and Wellness teams: Dr. Robert Voloshin, Integrative Psychiatrist.  Dr. Robert joins Dr. Shelly Ham and will be on-site full time.  We are very excited to add another Integrative Psychiatrist to our team!

Pacific Quest Welcomes Dr. Robert Voloshin, Integrative Psychiatrist

Robert Voloshin, DO

Dr. Robert received his BS from UCSD in Biology where he graduated Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He went on to complete medical school at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in the San Francisco Bay Area, choosing osteopathic medical school because of its orientation towards integrative care and healing. In medical school Dr. Voloshin served as president of the Integrative Medicine Club. Dr. Voloshin went on to complete his Psychiatry Residency at the University of New Mexico as well as an additional year of fellowship training in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. During his residency and fellowship Dr. Voloshin was involved in cutting edge addictions research. He continued to pursue his passion for integrative psychiatry during his training through research, journal clubs, and conferences.

In addition to Dr. Voloshin’s formal psychiatry training, he has pursued external psychotherapy training in Somatic Experiencing and Hakomi. Both therapies utilize mindfulness and are somatically oriented. Some of Dr. Voloshin’s primary influences in the field of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry are Daniel Siegel MD and Bruce Perry MD, PhD. Dr. Voloshin places a strong emphasis on neuroscience in his work with young people. The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics which Pacific Quest utilizes and Interpersonal Neurobiology, the study of how our primary relationships affect the development of our brains and nervous systems, has a significant impact on his practice. His multifaceted approach to Psychiatry with an emphasis on family systems theory, developmental psychology, psychopharmacology, nutrition, mind-­body approaches, and reconnection to the earth and community makes Pacific Quest an exquisite place for Dr. Voloshin to practice.

In his spare time Robert enjoys playing music, surfing, hiking, reading, travel, yoga, and meditation.

Welcome to the PQ Ohana!

October 23, 2016

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Pacific Quest Receives AHTA Therapeutic Garden Design Award

By: Yvette Slagle, Communications Manager

Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle M.A. recently accepted the national award in Therapeutic Garden Design from the  American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). The nomination process included an outpouring of inspiring testimonials from families, alumni, educational consultants, and mental health professionals from across the country. Travis comments, “The greatest part of this award is knowing that our gardens are saving lives, re-invigorating families, and changing the face of wilderness therapy.  Receiving this award is a humbling reminder that hard work pays off, and why healing gardens belong at the center of our communities as a reminder of our own resilience and of life’s endless possibilities.”

Pacific Quest receives AHTA Therapeutic Garden Design Award

Travis accepting award at AHTA Conference in St. Louis

Pacific Quest’s commitment to stewardship and their neurosequential approach to garden design and program structure makes them well deserving of this recognition.  Here is one of the many testimonials that the AHTA committee received during the award nomination:

“Our daughter was lost, struggling, and unhappy. She reconnected to nature and her healthy self through Pacific Quest’s horticultural therapy program.  Simple and hard work in nature helped her strip away unhealthy behaviors and unproductive patterns, and empowered her to understand how good process leads to good outcomes. In the garden, she learned how to work with others, delay gratification, tend weeds (psychological and natural), embrace discomfort, and envision a positive future. She developed resilience and sense of self by getting a little dirty and doing a little hard work. Every day, PQ’s guides and therapists helped her see how her work was helping her heal. We will be forever grateful to PQ and that patch of dirt for helping our daughter get past a dark period in her life.”

Upon his return from the AHTA conference and award ceremony, Travis shared, “Looking back to when PQ first began, we spent most our days hauling rocks and burning piles of dead grass to clear the jungle to make space for a visionary garden that would one day become the epicenter of our values as an organization.  As we cleared the land, one by one we planted fruit trees and built garden beds that have become a beacon of hope and inspiration for so many people.  I feel honored to be a part of it!”

September 20, 2016

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Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide – Part III

By:  Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager & Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

This three part series focuses on the Master Guide position and the significance of this special role at Pacific Quest. The first entry looked at the role itself and highlighted Nikki Robinson.  Part II introduced Master Guide Alyson Alde.  In this third and final entry we meet Nick Olson and learn about his focus within this role!

Meet Nick Olson

Master Guide Position: Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program

Nick working with a student on the land.

Nick hails from the high plains of Wyoming. There his wonderful parents worked diligently to instill in him a strong connection to a healthy diet, gardening and traveling. He studied International Studies at the University of Wyoming and in embracing his dream of vagabonding, traveled for two years following college. In the backwoods of Thailand with rambunctious kids, he realized that playing with youth in the dirt rules.

Nick started at Pacific Quest in March of 2015. He finds purpose in this job by helping students foster their own connection with the land, their food and their own self worth. He pulls from growing up in his tight knit community to help students build their sense of responsibility to their community, both here at Pacific Quest and back home. It’s a good day for Nick when his students find themselves deep in conversation, comfortably seated on the earth with their hands in the soil.  He comments, “What motivates me here at Pacific Quest  is when a student transforms a section of the garden and through their hard work they get invested and connected with the well-being of the land.”  As a master guide he hopes to help garden-shy guides feel more comfortable working on the land and getting their hands dirty.

In his off time he enjoys the quirkiness of Hilo, the comfort of his porch swing and the adventures with his community here on the Big Island.

August 22, 2016

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Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide

By:  Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager & Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

This three part series focuses on the Master Guide position and the significance of this special role at Pacific Quest. The first entry looks at the role itself and highlights Master Guide Nikki Robinson. Check back next week to meet another team member and their focus within this role! 

clementine_wilson_450x566

Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager

The Master Guide role at Pacific Quest is a pathway for Program Guides to develop into dynamic leaders and mentors in the field. There’s a belief in mentoring and rites of passage work that “you can only take someone as far as you’ve been willing to go yourself.” All guides at PQ begin their journey as Apprentices, learning the trade of guide work in our unique environment from those who are seasoned and experienced. Master Guides have worked with the widest variety of student profiles and therefore have developed a comprehensive skill set in order to work safely and effectively with the students in our care.  In their extensive time in the field, they have uncovered joy and passion, faced challenges, navigated growth edges, earned respect, built confidence, and have now come full circle to give back to their peers.

Master Guides are an extension of the Field Management team.  They teach and coach their peers through role modeling, open authentic communication, direct leadership, and the feedback loop. With this, they aim to hold a safe and empowering container for our guides to learn and grow.  In addition to collaborating with various departments and being highly respected among peers, the Master Guides at PQ currently have a cumulative total of over 1,000 days in the field.

Each Master Guide has identified a niche they are focusing on in their role. Nikki Robinson has an especially keen eye for safety and risk management in the early phases of the program.  She  holds the big picture of structure and boundaries and is committed to supporting and mentoring Program Guides in this area. Alyson Alde is focused on ensuring our curriculum is being taught with creativity and passion, mentoring guides on lesson planning and dynamic teaching. Nick Olson is our land engagement guide, focusing on working with teams to further incorporate horticulture therapy into activities, and working with guides to increase experiential learning via the garden.

Meet Nikki Robinson

Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide at PQ

Nikki working with a student in the garden

Master Guide Nikki Robinson graduated from Naropa University with a BA in Contemplative Psychology. She is captivated by human behavior and as a result applied to Pacific Quest to pursue her passions.  Nikki started as a Program Guide at Pacific Quest two years ago and found a passion for holding boundaries and providing a consistent safe space for students.

Now, as a Master Guide, Nikki brings her extensive experience to mentor, train and support the Program Guide team.  She comments, “I’ve worked as a guide for two years and have been involved in some highly intense situations.  As a Master Guide, I want to teach and guide others and be that supportive mentor I believe everyone needs, to not just survive but thrive!  The students are our future.  My passion lies in assisting in their growth and helping them be the change they seek for themselves.”

Nikki values honesty and genuine connection and in return offers that to the students and guides.  She has a strong desire to help others and is driven to create change and continuously grow. She is interested in the human psyche and finds fulfillment in providing support for people who deeply suffer.

When Nikki is not at work you can find her at coffee shops, the beach swimming in the company of friends or studying astrology. She has a passion for reading self help books, studying astrology charts and providing knowledge to others who want to know themselves more.

July 5, 2016

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Sportsmanship: Positive Role Modeling for Youth

Pacific Quest is supporting Mike Sullivan in his 2016 race and triathlon training. In this series of posts, Mike will share insights and perspectives throughout his races and training, and drawing parallels between the mind-body connection and wellness – important themes at Pacific Quest Wilderness Program. In his first two posts, Mike shared his insights before and after the Hilo Marathon. Mike parallels navigating transitions in racing, wilderness therapy, and life in his third post. His fourth post looks at acceptance, on and off the course.  Today, Mike explores sportsmanship and how we play the game. 

By: Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC
Alumni and Family Services Director

In my quest to raise awareness for the connection between fitness and mental health, I am reeling in the glory of two appearances in the newspaper this week! A dramatic finish in the Kona Half Marathon last Sunday drew significant attention, allowing me to practice what I often teach: good sportsmanship. Despite a knee injury and a laid back approach to the Kona Half Marathon, I found myself in a fierce battle in the final stretch of the race. The young man I was battling enjoyed a solid lead throughout the majority of the race, and in the final mile I closed the gap. He beat me across the finish line, finishing one second before me, clinching first place. We congratulated each other, both grinning about how close I came to passing him in the final stretch. I am a good loser, and respect that he beat me.

Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC

Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC

Thirty minutes later, while hydrating at the Gatorade coolers, the local newspaper approached me. “Michael Sullivan, you won the race and we would like to interview you for an article we are writing for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.” WAIT, WHAT? That other guy won. I told the reporter he had the wrong person. “Actually, that young man was disqualified for running under someone else’s name and you are now technically the winner.” My stomach turned; I encountered a strange mix of emotions. I wasn’t happy about winning on a technicality. I was surprised and dismayed, as my gut told me that it wasn’t right being awarded first place when I was second across the finish line.

The young man surfaced during the interview with the paper and congratulated me for winning. I immediately rectified the situation and employed my moral compass. “While I may have won on paper due to a technicality,” I told him, “You really won the race.”  He smiled and gave me a sweaty hug, and then disappeared into the crowd of people.

Mike Sullivan and Bree Wee, first place male and female finishers in the Kona Half Marathon

Mike Sullivan and Bree Wee, first place male and female finishers in the Kona Half Marathon

It is experiences like this that remind me of yet another aspect of what I appreciate about sports -they serve as a window into human character. According to Miriam Webster’s Dictionary, sportsmanship is defined as “fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition.” I strive to inspire youth through sports, and will always convey the age-old lesson: it isn’t about winning or losing, but how you play the game. I feel great about my second place victory, and furthermore, feel even better about the flurry of attention it created in the media, as it allowed me to highlight my sponsor Pacific Quest, and the importance of positive role models for youth.

Check out the two newspaper articles about the event: Half Distance, Full Drama from West Hawaii Today and Athlete of the Week from the Hawaii Tribune-Herald to read more about Mike Sullivan’s race and role as an upstanding leader in the Hilo running community.