LavaKids Aquathon

As Boazton David turned the final corner at the Lavakids Aquathlon — sporting an ear-to-ear smile and swim cap still on his head — he was welcomed by high fives, roaring cheers and more than a few familiar faces.

He wasn’t in first place, but it sure felt like it.

David and around 20 other Kona Kids joined a field of 200-plus keiki for the 15th running of the event at the Hilton Waikoloa Village lagoon on Saturday. “It was fun, but challenging,” David said.

“Harder than we thought it would be,” added fellow Kona Kid, Nelson Johnson, 14. “Running was my favorite part, but maybe next time we bike too.

“They loved it,” Kona Kids coach and founder Carrie McCoy said after the race. “We tell kids they can be whatever they want to be, but we don’t always give them the tools. I believe that change starts with the youth,” McCoy said. “The goal of the program is to empower them by teaching them ownership of their mind, body and goals.”

McCoy said many of her kids couldn’t swim, or even tread water, when they started preparing for the race. But they worked at it, and Saturday’s event was the culmination — or finish line of sorts — for all their hard work.

“They don’t get to do things like this,” McCoy said. “A lot of them have never been on a baseball or a football team. But today, they were able to feel what it was like to be on a team.”

As for what has been the best part of being a part of the Kona Kids program, all the aquathlon athletes were quick to answer with, “Our coach (McCoy). She treats us like family,” said Aaron Gifford, 14. “She’s kind of like our mom. She loves us, she feeds us and takes care of us.”

Lavakids sponsored the group’s entry into the event in exchange for cleaning up parts Ane Keohokalole Highway — where the monthly LavaKids Family Fun Runs take place.