KAHULUI - Gazing at a crowd of sweaty, smiling faces at the inaugural Kraig Vickers Honor Run on Sunday morning, Nani Vickers nodded in approval. It was exactly as her late husband would have wanted.
Kraig Vickers, an explosive ordinance disposal specialist based in Virginia Beach, Va., was among 22 U.S. service members who died a year ago today when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan's Wardak province. The 1992 Maui High School graduate is also survived by son Kala'i, 8; daughter Malie, 5; and 9-month-old daughter Kaleinani.
An estimated 600-plus runners took part in either a 5K or a 3K run route beginning and ending at Kanaha Beach Park. The event, co-sponsored by the Valley Isle Road Runners, was created to honor Vickers and other military personnel.
Nani Vickers (left) pushes 9-month-old daughter Kaleinani as she walks near Kanaha Beach Park during the Kraig Vickers Honor Run held on Sunday. Also pictured is Kraig Vickers’ neice, Kiana Hartman (from left), sister-in-law Liana Vickers pushing son Mason, and brother Vance Vickers.
LOIS WHITNEY photo
"The mood here definitely represents my husband very well," Nani Vickers said as she looked toward the crowd of supporters gathered near the race finish line. "You see everyone happy, smiling, having a good time and enjoying themselves, and that was my husband. He lived life to the fullest, and he was just a happy guy all the time. Something like this, this is just him."
A second Kraig Vickers Honor Run organized by family friends Bill and Anne Gassett was held in Virginia Beach on Sunday. Proceeds from both events will benefit the Kraig Vickers Foundation, which aims to assist Hawaii military service members and their families in times of hardship as well as to promote a more active and healthy lifestyle in the community.
"It's not only honoring Kraig and what he did, but all our other military guys, the guys who are still there. We're just so thankful for them," said his mother, Mary Vickers.
Standing 6 feet 1 inch tall, Kraig Vickers was a football and wrestling standout at Maui High. Mark Vickers said that Sunday's Honor Run was just the kind of thing his brother would have loved.
"Wherever he was stationed, he'd do marathons, 5Ks and 10Ks," recalled Mark Vickers. "It was something that he and I did together, so it was special for us. Physical fitness was always something that he was into, and running was one of his passions and one of his talents."
"He was big, but he was fast," Mark Vickers added with a laugh.
Running was also a passion that Kraig Vickers shared with his wife.
"He and I used to run every Sunday morning before church - that was our ritual, to run about 3 or 4 miles and then go to church together afterwards," Nani Vickers remembered. "He has that mental capability to just push and push and push. He just had a strong mind like that."
She and the couple's three children moved from their home in Virginia Beach to Maui in April to be closer to the Vickers family.
"I wanted the kids to be close to Kraig's family, especially since there's a lot of men in their family," she said. "He has three brothers, he has a father that's still pretty active, so I wanted that male influence for our children."
Among Sunday's participants was Elias Kfoury, a service member, who at one time served in the same military unit as Vickers. Kfoury, who is currently stationed on Oahu, flew to Maui to attend the event.
"(During the run) I was just thinking about how much I missed him," Kfoury said. "We spent more time together than with our family. That day I lost 22 brothers - being able to come here and support his family is our duty."
He added, "Kraig loved family more than anything else, and he would be smiling at all the community support here today."
According to race officials, more than 400 runners signed up in advance of Sunday's event. The run was scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. but was pushed back half an hour due to another 200-plus runners registering Sunday morning.
"In the beginning, it started with maybe 150 people," Mark Vickers explained. "That number started increasing substantially, but we didn't anticipate so many people here today to sign up. We're overwhelmed by the community support and everyone who came out today. It is definitely humbling to see this many people come out to honor Kraig."
It may be humbling, but it's not surprising, he said.
"A lot of people in the community knew Kraig. He just had that ability where once you meet him, you want to be his friend, and he spread that. It's the true meaning of aloha, and that's him," he said. "Wherever he was stationed, he would bring that aloha with him . . . and this just shows how much he has touched Maui."
* Lehia Apana can be reached at email@example.com.