High School Sports

Even in death, legacy of Keahi Mendoza inspiring locals to ‘just keep running’

Keahi Mendoza, front, continues to inspire runners on the Grand Strand and beyond nearly five months after his untimely death.
Keahi Mendoza, front, continues to inspire runners on the Grand Strand and beyond nearly five months after his untimely death.

Like taking training wheels off a bike, one taste of competitive running for Keahi Mendoza created an insatiable appetite for more.

“(Mendoza) started running for me when he was in eighth grade,” said Socastee cross country coach Robb Urbaniak. “He was looking for something to get involved with at (Socastee High School). In the time that I coach him, he grew from a back of the pack type runner to become our team captain and leader.”

After a while, the pupil became a teacher of sorts, able to convey Urbaniak’s thoughts to younger runners — a trait not lost on the Braves cross country coach. “He was extremely positive and always willing to motivate our younger runners, he wanted everyone to be as passionate about running as he was.”

Mendoza drowned this past December during an early morning surfing expedition. Weeks before, the runner had signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to attend Anderson University on a cross country scholarship.

Still, in Mendoza’s brief time on the planet he made an impact well beyond himself, revealed largely in how revered he is several months after his death.

In his honor, the Keahi Mendoza Foundation in conjunction with the Socastee High cross country team and Grand Strand Running Club will host the Running Hawaiian 5K Run/Walk. It will take place on May 20 at the North Myrtle Beach Sports Complex in Little River, kicking off at 8:30 a.m.

Keahi lived his life to bring people to running, so we knew there was no better way to honor him than to bring people to this event.

Socastee cross country coach Robb Urbaniak

Proceeds from the event will go toward the Keahi Mendoza Scholarship Fund.

“With the support of my cross country team, we started talking about this event almost immediately (after Mendoza’s death),” Urbaniak said. “His friends knew the best way to remember Keahi was to host a 5K in his memory. Keahi lived his life to bring people to running, so we knew there was no better way to honor him than to bring people to this event.”

The Socastee cross country coach well understood Mendoza’s impact on his team, but with every passing day since his untimely death Urbaniak is realizing just how well known he was in the local running scene.

“He was well respected by his teammates, but he was always very encouraging to other runners from other schools,” Urbaniak said. “He tried to talk to just about everyone he saw at a race. When he would finish running, he would wait around the finish line and congratulate people as they crossed.”

Mendoza was an active member in the Grand Strand Running Club, along with participating in Myrtle Beach Track Club events.

According to Urbaniak, all interested parties can register for the event at RunSignUp.com. Cost is $25 per participant.

“We want as many people as we can get to participate by running or walking, and sharing stories and memories of an outstanding athlete,” he said.

Joe L. Hughes II: 843-444-1702, @JoeLHughesII

Running Hawaiian 5K Run/Walk

When: Saturday, May 20 at 8:30 a.m.

Where: North Myrtle Beach Sports Complex, Little River

What: The event is in memory of Aiden Keahi Mendoza, a senior captain of the Socastee cross country and track and field teams who drowned this past December in a surfing accident. The Running Hawaiian 5K is a memorial to him, a celebration of his life and an opportunity to garner funds for a scholarship in his name.

Cost: $25 per participant

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