Moanalua's Rahieum Lee getting set to chase some state marks

Apr. 9—In 35 years as an assistant and head track and field coach at Moanalua, Earl Kishimoto witnessed many things.

In 35 years as an assistant and head track and field coach at Moanalua, Earl Kishimoto witnessed many things.

This year, he saw something new. The former Na Menehune athlete saw his 800-meter school record of 2 minutes, 4 seconds, fall. It had stood the test of time since 1985.

Then Rahieum Lee II came along.

"Nobody else ran it faster than me, " said Kishimoto, who has been the baker in Moanalua Elementary School's cafeteria for nearly as long. "He broke it at Kaiser in preseason. Mine was at states. All my years, nobody's broken it. They've come close."

Lee has posted the top 400-meter time in the state so far this season, 49.23 seconds at the Kalani Invitational. He also has the fastest 800 time of 1 :58.02, recorded at the Menehune Hawaii Invitational.

The junior doesn't set alarms off at first glance. He is 5 feet, 7 inches tall, a simmering rocket in the midst of taller, lankier 400-and 800-meter runners. What Lee has that many talented athletes do not is this : commitment.

"He has a good work ethic and his character is good. Some kids are talented, but lazy, " Kishimoto said. "Rahieum works for it."

The oldest son of a basketball player and a track sprinter, Rahieum Lee II tried running as youngster.

Before becoming known as Lee's mother, Afua Boahema was a 200-and 400-meter sprinter at Alabama State. Rahieum Lee I was a high school hoopster. Their firstborn, Rahieum II, was 8 when mom decided it was time. Thing is, Rahieum decided it was not.

"I didn't want to play sports. My mom pushed me to do running and cross country, but I never did it for real. I was 8, 9, 10. I didn't really like it. I just walked around the entire time, " Lee said.

In fact, he would call running "a punishment, " Boahema-Lee recalled.

It's a sharp contrast to what he has transformed into today. Na Menehune have an outside shot at the OIA boys championship, and Lee is prepared to do all it takes to amass points for his team.

"He wants to do something that hasn't been done at states since the 1970s. He's going to try and double the 400 and 800, " Moanalua assistant coach Keola said. "There's only one race in between. He's done it once before."

Roll the calendar back to 2016, there's no way this was going to happen.

"I was slow. Or I didn't really try, " he said of his elementary school years. "I just wanted to go home and read. I played Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox. Honestly, I met my best friend on Fortnite. It teaches some life skills."

What Lee loved, aside from video games, was the work of J.K. Rowling.

"I was a kind of nerdy kid. A Harry Potter kid. I have the books. I've read all of them seven times, " he said.

Lee's hobbies and goals changed when he made friends who played sports. Football. Basketball. The transformation began the summer before he enrolled at E.E. Smith High School in North Carolina, where his mother was stationed. Perhaps an active mind is enough to stimulate a future elite runner.

"I haven't read (Harry Potter ) since eighth-grade year. Reading challenges your imagination more than movies or TV. As a kid, I had to visualize it myself before I saw the movies, " he said.

Once his passion was stirred, Lee went after his goals with full force.

"I wanted to get faster, so my mom would train me five days a week before I went to school. She focused on building my base and endurance, " he recalled.

The two-and three-mile runs together were unlike most mothers and sons.

"She ran with me. One day, she said she loved me and stuff, " Lee recalled. "Even in the summer, in North Carolina, some days it's hot and humid. Some days it's cold and painful."

For mom, running was part of their universe, like the hours they spent together in the kitchen as she cooked his favorite foods.

"We made running more enjoyable for him by turning it into a fun activity. We started periodically racing each other in 100 meters and I noticed his growing interest in competing and wanting to beat me, " she said. "It wasn't until Rahieum's freshman year that I truly saw his commitment to track. He began comparing his times to mine from college, showing a strong desire to surpass them."

The miles added up. When tryouts for varsity football started, he was ready. He made the cut. A ninth grader was the fastest player on the team.

"I was geeked. I had a lot to learn, " Lee said of his first experience playing football.

Winter arrived. Lee was cut during basketball tryouts, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"In the winter, there's indoor track. My first meet, I'm running the 50-and 300-meter dashes, and I ran terribly, " he said.

By his third meet, Lee tasted victory in the 300.

"It was my first win so, wow, that was pretty nice. My mom was screaming, " he said of his one and only race victory as a ninth grader. "When (outdoor ) track started, my coach put me in every event to see where I might succeed."

That's when his focus narrowed and the 400 and 800 became his pathways. After all those years of imagination and books, Lee entered a new world. He loved it.

"We figured that once he got to high school and began socializing with kids involved in athletics, it would awaken his competitive nature in the physical sense, " Rahieum Lee I said. "He was already mentally competitive with his academics. Academics was his passion and reading was his superpower."

Boahema-Lee said Lee II "started waking up early in the morning to work out with dedication, focusing on improving his form. He stopped calling running a punishment. This marked the beginning of his committed journey in track."

Then came a new chapter.

"My mom got her orders to PCS in Hawaii. Everything I did, I saw what my experience level was, the setbacks, and I kept a positive mindset, but I was kind of sad. I had a lot of good friends and in a good culture. I was having a good time, playing football, " Lee said.

He had been looking forward to a second varsity football season at E.E. Smith. After arriving in the islands, he tried out for Moanalua's football team and played defensive back on the varsity squad.

"It was more fun because I played more. I like the Hawaii culture more than the mainland. Our whole team, we have a lot of support, " he said.

After playing JV basketball, track season awaited. He cut his 800 time by 15 seconds in the span of one year.

"Sophomore track year was so amazing. I met so many people who made me into who I am today. I had people who are better than me. I had to work my way up. There was failure, then success, " Lee said.

His PR in the 400 as a sophomore was 50.36 seconds. In the 800, it was 1 :59. It was quite a debut on Moanalua's recently renovated track and field. In the summer, he traveled with the renowned Running Renegades Track Club. He ran in Oregon, Washington and at the Nike Indoor Track Championships in New York City.

"We went to Oregon. It was different, " Lee said of his first national-level competition. "The best of the best in track. Everyone's mentality was a new perception for me. Everyone's focused, not lallygagging. They're from Texas, Florida, California. I took way too long of a break from spring season, so I wasn't in my best shape. I was terrified. I lost my lock-in."

It was still a notable performance. Lee ran the 800 in 1 :59, good for eighth place, and 52 seconds flat in the 400. With a stronger focus on track, Lee decided not to play football. During the winter season, he went to the Spokane Invitational.

The Nike Indoor championships followed in March at The Armory in New York City.

"It went all right. I ran an indoor PR, but I feel like I would've done better if I took a better strategy, " he said of his 50.001 time in the 400 at the Nike meet. "It feels really good to compete really high out of Hawaii. People see my thing. 'Look, he's from Hawaii.'"

In the fall, he ran cross country. Over the winter, he actively invited students to try track and field.

"Without me telling him, he recruited a bunch of kids, " Aiwohi said. "We were up to 140 at one point."

That number settled at 80 through most of the season, according to Kishimoto. Momentum is on Moanalua's side. A good deal of it has to do with Lee, whose energy on the lanes is matched easily by his dedication to his team. When the OIA Eastern Division JV meet was held at Moanalua on Saturday, Lee and some of his teammates were there in the morning to help their coaches.

"He's a good leader. He rallies the team to get things done, " Kishimoto said. "The meet wasn't until 3 p.m. He came at 9 :30 a.m. Once things were set up, everyone left and came back later. He stayed to the end. The race got done around 8 p.m. He left there around 9."

"The varsity wasn't even running, but we always set up the stadium, " Aiwohi said. "He asked on Friday, 'Coach, do you need help tomorrow ?' He set up, stayed with them, talked with them."

"Them, " of course, includes many of the freshmen and sophomores Lee personally invited to join the team. Of course, it's a win-win situation in his mind.

"I'm recruiting everybody, going up to them on Instagram. 'Hey, what're you doing this spring ?' Usually, we'll need two more athletes to win states or OIA, " he noted.

"I was just taking pictures, reminding them to stay humble and stay composed, " Lee said. "The JV, it is what it is. It's important to their development, their confidence and momentum. If you win three races in a row, win JV champs, that momentum can carry you."

Aiwohi counts his blessings. A leader like Lee can lead in a way that coaches cannot.

"The whole team responds to him. He always hypes everybody up and gets them going every day, " Aiwohi said. "He harps on them and sets a good example. He holds himself to a higher standard. He's the hardest worker."

"I like the team aspect at Moanalua, " Lee said. "The attitude. Everyone wants to win and loves track. I want to guide their mentality and spirit. They want to learn how to do track. You make lifetime friends in this sport."

Of course, the first three letters of momentum are M-O-M. Afua Boahema-Lee still runs with her son, still has the instant breakdown after each meet. The child who hated running just a few years ago absorbs her every word of wisdom.

"I want to run a perfect race, but I never do. I'm always unhappy after a run. I go back and critique myself. My mom, usually she'll tell me, " he said.

The video doesn't lie.

Moanalua will compete in the Walter Thompson Invitational at Roosevelt on Saturday. Lee plans to run the 100, 800 and perhaps 4 ×400 relay.

"I'm trying to make him not run too much, " Aiwohi said. "Trying to save his legs for states. I changed up his process and put more speed on him."

Lee's PR times in the 100, 11.2 seconds, and 200, at 22.4, are promising. He could score valuable points in the postseason.

"Our second meet, he was on the 4 ×400 anchor, " Aiwohi added. "When he got the baton, the kid in front of us was almost 80 meters ahead of Rahieum. He came around, caught him and lost by 3 /10ths of a second. He said, 'Coach, you got to get me stronger.'"

Lee's split was 48.1 seconds.

"His personality is big and one of the biggest I've coached, " Aiwohi said. "And I've had state champions before."

RAHIEUM LEE II Moanalua track and field —Junior 800-, 400-meter—top times in the state—Pre-race dinner "Spaghetti or pasta. My dad makes it in a pressure cooker. Spaghetti and meatballs. For breakfast—If my nerves are low, my mental state, I don't feel the pressure yet. I'll eat a regular breakfast, french toast, sausage, eggs. I'll make it or my mom will. If it's high, I'll eat a granola bar, banana bagel and nibble on it later. After my first event, I'll eat a little."

Superstition no more "Last year I thought I had to wear my black socks every meet. I kind of just said, I gotta change, gotta get faster, so I tried not wearing socks at meets. My teammates kind of made fun of me at first, but it's fine now. It's definitely mental. It feels like I can go faster."—Top 3 movies /shows 1. "Spider-Man : Into the Spider-Verse "

2. "Spider-Man : Across the Spider-Verse "

3. "Signs "

"I've seen 'Into the Spider-Verse' five times. As I got older, I saw the bigger message and overall theme."—Top 3 foods /drinks 1. Chicken katsu (L &L Hawaiian Barbecue )

2. Spaghetti (Enzo's )

3. Cup Noodle—Top 3 homemade food 1. Mom's joloff fries 2. Grandma's fufu and peanut butter soup 3. Mom and grandma's banku.

"Joloff is African. My grandma (Matilda Ofori-Owusu ) used to raise me when I was younger. She moved back to Ghana a few years ago. I could kind of improvise it, but I couldn't make it as good as she does. Banku is kind of like fufu, but more hard. You can eat it with a stew. It's kind of like a dough."—Top 3 music artists 1. Kendrick Lamar — "All the Stars "

2. Ski Mask — "Dr. Seuss "

3. 21 Savage — "Red Room "—Favorite athlete /team : Lamar Jackson /Baltimore Ravens "I've played Madden since 2019, and he went crazy in 2020. I think they sold that Chiefs game. He wasn't playing like how he usually does. He usually runs more. The game plan was not the same. I think the game plan was to throw off the Chiefs' game plan, but they couldn't stop him running."—Funniest teammate : Reshod Scott.

"He just knows how to make me laugh all the time. I just look at him when something happens and I just start laughing. He just knows how to make people laugh all the time."—Smartest teammate : Cate O'Connor.

"Her SAT is 1400 and her GPA is 4.3."—GPA : 3.9 "At the beginning of the year, I was procrastinating, but now I'm locked in and doing my assignments on time. I do it during tutorial after school or in breaks."—Favorite teacher : Mrs. (Chela ) Sheets "My homeroom teacher. She's easy to talk to."—Favorite classes : Physics, English.—Favorite motto : Do more, talk less.

"I'm pretty sure it was on Instagram. I use it as my saying. Sophomore year, I did more talking than doing."—Hidden talent : "I can walk on my hands."—New life skill : "I learned how to become a leader."—Bucket list : "I want to run in the Olympics, perform a successful surgery as a doctor. Visit every continent."—Time machine : "I'd probably travel to two years ago and relive my life to this point and see how I can improve on it."—Youth sports : "I played football when I was 14. Second sport was track."—If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self ?

"I'd try to convince him to play sports. Football and basketball sooner. I'd show him what I'm doing now, and imagine how good you could be if you worked on your football and basketball skills, how much better you'd be."—Shout-outs : "First, shout out my mom for coaching and guiding me. Shout-out my freshman year coaches, Coach Raymond Johnson at E.E. Smith High School, for giving me a disciplined mentality. He believed in me and worked me out harder than anybody else. Coach David Matsumoto at Moanalua for my cross country training this year. Also want to thank Coach K (Keola Aiwohi ) for helping getting my speed back on track."