Sia Figiel‘s race to beat diabetes leads to the Great Aloha Run

Photo Credit: 
Courtesy Photo via Sia Figiel
Sia Figiel at 400 pounds, in New Caledonia, Nov. 2011.

FIGIEL: “You have to draw the line somewhere.”

(Honolulu, HAWAI`I)--Using her name and personal experience to champion healthy living in the Pacific fight against diabetes, Samoan novelist and poet Sia Figiel will join an expected 25,000 runners in Hawai’i’s Great Aloha Run that starts from the Aloha Tower and finishes at the Aloha Stadium, tomorrow on the President’s Day holiday.

Figiel, a single mother in her early 40s, has a come a long way – in more ways than one. A native of Vaimauga, Samoa she is now a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah and her participation in tomorrow’s run is the realization of a goal she set seven months ago when she was nearly 400 pounds.

“[My] heaviest recorded weight is 392 pounds but I was probably 400 unrecorded at my highest,” Figiel told tautalatala.com. “It took me seven months to lose 80 pounds but I'm only half way through. According to my doc, I need to be between 190 to 220 pounds and that's my goal. At 392 pounds, I told myself, I will run the Great Aloha Run one day as a goal and even though I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, I came back here to fulfill a promise I had made myself.”

To Figiel, being among to thousands in the Great Aloha Run “represents persistence.”

“It's not necessarily winning that counts but for me it's all about participation and being able to complete it,” she said. “I don't care how long it takes but I want to cross the finish line and tell myself, ‘yes!’ Saying you're going to do something and following through with it, is the main reason I’m doing this. Words inspire. Action rocks in my book! My goal is to finish the 8K under 2 hours as my first marathon ever! But certainly not my last!”

Figiel is a writer, former teacher and the first female Samoan novelist. These days she is using her gift to inspire the masses, bring awareness to diabetes and empower Pasefika to make health a priority.

“Diabetes can easily be a death sentence for all of us. How can it not be? We've seen too much loss from it. Whether it's amputations, heart attacks, dialysis, blindness, the list goes on. Both my parents died from diabetes complications,” said Figiel. “My father in the end did not know who we were because of early set dementia. My mother died eventually after six years on dialysis. I have learned from my own suffering that diabetes has been a blessing in disguise. I am healthier now than I was in my late 20's and 30's.”

Her journey to health has been one of discovery and a life affirmation.

“What I've learned is that you have to draw the line somewhere. And for me, it took losing my teeth from advanced periodontal disease which is closely tied to diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugars to wake up and take charge,” she explained. “Diabetes can be a death sentence but for me, it has been a life affirmation. Diabetes has given me the fire I needed to take charge of my life and walk the talk towards a new way of looking and of being.”

Since she arrived last week, Figiel has done readings of her work at Kapolei High School and Brigham Young University at Laie.

She will address diabetes and lifestyle changes when she joins Fata Simanu-Klutz, Mehanaokala Hind and Alice Te Punga Somerville during ‘Mana Wahine’, a Native Voices reading set for Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. Mana Wahine is set for 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., at the Halau o Haumea Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus.

“I am targeting all Pacific peoples living with diabetes as well as their family members,” she said. ”In the past, the practice has been to isolate the diabetic. Give them their own special diet. Today, if you can eat together as a family while following the principles of a low carb, healthy protein and vegetables diet, you will in essence heal not only the diabetic in your family but you will be practicing eating habits that will prevent family members from getting diabetes. I aim to address both diabetics and caregivers to take charge! And for the rest of us to take charge, to use preventive measures towards a healthy lifestyle as a sedentary one with bad eating habits leads you only to doom. And we don't want that.”

Utah-based PolyOne Media that filmed “Sia at the Dentist,” is documenting Figiel’s participation in the Great Aloha Run.

To learn more about Figiel and her fight against diabetes, search for Manava Ola (Breath of Life) on Facebook.

Reach Tina Mata'afa-Tufele at tinamataafa@gmail.com.

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