Rare medical condition doesn’t stop determined Rotorua mini-marathon runner

And off we go for the Rotorua Mini Marathon. Photo/Andrew Warner

When Debbie Iasona-Hunt was born, doctors said she would never walk or talk.

But yesterday the beaming 9-year-old ran her second Rotorua mini-marathon – along with nearly 3,000 other Rotorua primary and middle school children.

It was a record turnout of children aged 1-8 who take part in the fun race each year which finishes at the same location as today’s Rotorua Marathon.

The event has grown to attract 28 schools since its inception in 2010 and aims to involve more primary school students in running.

Children receive “marathon passports” upon registration and are encouraged to spend the weeks leading up to the event ticking off 1km at a time as part of their training, with the aim of reaching 40km. Then the event sees them run the last 2 kilometers, giving them the feeling of finishing a marathon.

Jurnee Williams (left) and Debbie Iasona-Hunt of Kawaha Point School.  Photo / Kelly Makiha
Jurnee Williams (left) and Debbie Iasona-Hunt of Kawaha Point School. Photo / Kelly Makiha

For Debbie, a pupil at Kawaha Point Primary School, the race was very special as she has Moebius Syndrome – one of seven people in New Zealand to have it.

The congenital condition deprived her of the full use of her muscles on one side of her face. It also affects his eyesight and his muscles on one side of his body.

Her mother, Fafea Iasona, said she had several surgeries and was very proud of her daughter’s racing achievements yesterday.

“Especially since she was born, they said she would never walk or talk.”

Debbie and her school friend, Jurnee Williams, helped each other to the hectic start line which sees hundreds of children packed in eager to start running.

Although there were a few minor injuries at the start line, Debbie and Jurnee were safe as they held hands for the first few meters.

“I was nervous because there were so many kids in there,” Jurnee told the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend afterwards.

“We were both a little scared, so I thought if I was with Debbie it would be fine,” she said.

They weren’t the only kids finding comfort in each other.

Kendall Judd (left) and Vidhi Mistry are best friends and ran the Rotorua Mini Marathon hand in hand.  Photo / Kelly Makiha
Kendall Judd (left) and Vidhi Mistry are best friends and ran the Rotorua Mini Marathon hand in hand. Photo / Kelly Makiha

Best friends Vidhi Mistry and Kendall Judd from St Mary’s School, both aged 10 and in Year 5, ran the whole race hand in hand.

As they crossed the finish line, they punched out the crowd of proud parents and family members who had gathered to watch their children sprint down the home stretch.

Kendall said they had been best friends since starting school and held hands the whole time.

“We still do it every year because we love the feeling of going out and doing it together.”

Vidhi said the girls accidentally bumped into each other at school when they were 5 and have been best friends ever since.

Amelia Tarplett of Mokoia Intermediate was the first to finish.  Photo / Kelly Makiha
Amelia Tarplett of Mokoia Intermediate was the first to finish. Photo / Kelly Makiha

Although there was no ranking in the fun race, Mokoia Intermediate Year 7 student Amelia Tarplett took the opportunity to do her best and managed to cross the finish line first among senior students.

She said she was thrilled because she loves running, having recently competed in the Bay of Plenty Schools Cross Country Championships and the AIMS Games.

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