Annual Running Hawaiian 5K brings Grand Strand communities together

Published: May. 14, 2023 at 10:43 AM EDT
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NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - An annual event in the Grand Strand was held Saturday to honor a late runner known to inspire those who knew him.

Various communities came together to host the Running Hawaiian 5K, in memory of 17-year-old Keahi Mendoza.

“He was kind, he was caring, he was giving,” said Katinka Keller-Mendoza, Keahi’s mother.

Keller-Mendoza said her son, also known as the “Running Hawaiian”, was an avid runner for the Socastee High School Track and Cross Country teams.

It’s now been seven years since Mendoza drowned while surfing in Surfside Beach. In the years since, the community has honored him through the 5K and a scholarship foundation.

“It also gives us an opportunity to bring all of us together again, you know, it’s kind of a remembrance as well,” said Keller-Mendoza.

Mendoza’s former coach and guidance counselor off the track says he was known for having a big heart.

“Keahi always said he wanted to inspire people to get out and run,” said Robb Urbaniak, event director for the 5K. “And that’s what we do with the race, we just inspire people to come out and be part of this great event, and for a lot of people it’s a homecoming.”

What makes the event more special is each year the funds raised go towards selecting one Socastee High School senior to receive a $750 scholarship on behalf of the Aidan Keahi Mendoza Foundation.

“He was always ready to help somebody, you know, and that’s what our foundation is about,” said Keller-Mendoza. “So, we he received a full scholarship, almost a full scholarship to Anderson University, and we felt that we needed to pay it forward, like have somebody else enjoy those moments at school that they may not have had you know, otherwise,” she said.

Those close to Mendoza said they’ve honored him every year as they run to commemorate his memory.

For some, when thinking about his absence, it’s easier said than done. But they continue to let his legacy live on.

“Grief is, we can’t understand it, we can’t ever know when it’s going to come,” said Elijah Mendoza, a friend of Keahi Mendoza. “When you’re just living your normal life and then boom, get news and someone close to you that you love so much is gone. I think you just wanna keep the faith, keep his name alive, keep the legacy alive,” he said

Other childhood friends since middle school shared their thoughts as well.

“Keahi was such a selfless person, he always put other people’s needs before his own,” said Jill Dudley, current Miss South Carolina who was also friends with Mendoza. “And so to see just the impact, and how many, I mean everybody truly loved him as a person and one of the things we always say is, ‘Love always Keahi.’”

For the many communities coming together like friends, family, Socastee High School and multiple running organizations to put on this annual event, they say it couldn’t be done alone.

“It literally took a village,” said Keller-Mendoza. “It took high school, it took these running clubs it took strangers on the street like our family, friends, everybody came together and made this happen.”

Stay with WMBF News for updates.