By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
HONOLULU, HI, USA (09-Dec) -- With her toes in the sand, Buzunesh Deba tosses a beach ball back and forth with a new friend then poses for a selfie. Her mother, Wedere Fikre Debela, and husband, Worku Beyi, can't help but watch and smile. Here for Sunday's Honolulu Marathon, Deba's family has reunited with hopes that the 29-year-old can become the race's first winner from Ethiopia since 2013.
PHOTO: Buzunesh Deba (left) with her husband and coach Worku Beyi and her mother Wedere Fikre Debela on Waikiki Beach in advance of the 2016 Honolulu Marathon (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)
"It means a lot. They've supported me, they've cheered me. I'm so happy," Deba told Race Results Weekly, standing on Waikiki Beach.
The Honolulu Marathon is a redemption race for Deba. Just over a month ago, Deba hoped to finish on the podium of the TCS New York City Marathon for the third time. Yet a severe case of food poisoning dashed her chances, forcing her into the hospital only two days before the race.
Determined to toe the line nonetheless, she ran with the leaders, but then dropped out out on the Queensboro Bridge about 25 kilometers into the race. For Deba, it was a gut-wrenching defeat made worse by the fact that the TCS New York City Marathon was the first chance her mother could see her compete in person. Never before had Fikre witnessed her daughter at a race outside of Ethiopia.
"I am excited and am happy and scared, you know? Because she's never seen me when I've run!" she said in the days leading up to New York. "I tell her, 'don't be nervous, relax and pray.'"
After New York, Deba recovered quickly and wanted to use her fitness for another race. As luck would have it, the Honolulu Marathon had a place for her and she would have another chance to race with her mother on hand.
"In New York, the first time when she watched me, I dropped out because I was sick. I'm going to make it here. Yes," she said, assuring that Sunday's result would not be a DNF. Deba said her training has resumed full force, and that she's in proper racing shape. With a personal best of 2:19:59 and a Boston Marathon title to her name, she is the most accomplished woman in the field.
Having arrived on Thursday after an eleven hour flight from New York, Deba hasn't had a chance to review the undulating course yet. She has quickly noticed the heat and humidity of the island, a far cry from the near-freezing temperature of the Big Apple. Sunday's race forecast calls for 70F/21C, 86-percent humidity, and rain.
Deba believes the conditions will be a true equalizer, and that they'll play a factor in the outcome. Run conservatively early and you'll be around in the later miles. Push too early and you'll pay for it mightily, succumbing to the heat.
"I'm not focusing on time; I'm focusing to win," Deba reasoned. "I didn't see the course, but two years ago my friend came and finished second and told me the course is very hard because of the humidity. I'm just focusing on winning, not time. It's not different from my strategy before. But I think the weather is very hard. I am training in New York where it is cold. I don't know, we will see."
Laughing at the difference in climate, Deba said Hawaii is her new paradise. But New York will always be her first love.
"New York has beaches but nothing as pretty as this. New York is city to me," she said. "I love my city, my city is New York. But I like this place. Wow, it is beautiful."
It is made all the more beautiful thanks to her family. Lined up on Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head volcano as a backdrop, Deba, her mother and husband linked arms and smiled. Each wore multiple Hawaiian leis and bright smiles.
"It is so happy. I am so happy. Yes, I am so happy," said Fikre, with Beyi translating her words.
Deba was at first speechless, soaking in the moment. Then she said, "Everything is special to me. My family is here, the place, the people are so nice. I am so happy," she said.