ILH champion William Ho’s secret to conquering the hill

A good day of school for William Ho would be mentally unpleasant for a lot of other students.

The Kamehameha senior doesn’t like math. He loves math. Ho, who has a 4.26 grade-point average, ranks his favorite math classes.

1. Algebra II
2. Vector Calculus
3. Linear Algebra
4. Calculus AB/BC

Calculus. Algebra. The latter is especially compelling.

“I would say just how applicable it is and, yes, the logic behind it is really interesting,” the new Interscholastic League of Honolulu boys cross country champion said.

It began long ago, in a galaxy… in an elementary school, not far away. The straw that stirred Ho’s drink: multiplication.

“Definitely multiplication! I always had an easy time with it. I also had one elementary teacher (Andy Chung) who was my favorite because he did algebra with me and allowed me to get ahead in math,” he said of the sixth grade instructor.

Since then, Ho has dived into a smorgasbord of mathematical challenges. He is currently enrolled in three AP classes along with a college (HPU) dual-credit course (Linear Algebra). Last year, he had AP Physics and AP Calculus, along with AP Computer Science, AP Physics C (calculus based) and AP Microeconomics.

“Microeconomics is my favorite one right now. I’m planning to major in it. It’s math-intensive, but it’s nothing too difficult,” Ho said.

A favorite problem from Vector Calculus class written out by William Ho.

There is logic. There is willpower. Sometimes the two are completely divergent. When runners sauntered up the hill on Saturday at the ILH championship course at Mid-Pacific Institute, preparation met the incline. Twice. And sooner.

Ho made it work, finishing in 10 minutes, 39 seconds on the most challenging terrain of the 2021 season, winning a meet that hadn’t been scheduled until a few weeks before the season ended. On a course he hadn’t seen since 2019.

“It’s a lot different. They changed the (starting line) because of the rain puddles and stuff,” Ho said. “It definitely felt harder because it felt like something added on. You’re starting uphill. Our Kamehameha course is really comparable to the Mid-Pacific course, except you had to run the (MPI) hill twice.

“The second time is the hard one, though. Coming up the second time, the hill really killed me. I really wanted to stop going into the second mile because I was so tired. I was questioning if I can keep going,” Ho said.

The key is technique. Logic.

“Running uphill, I always take shorter strides and need to take faster steps in order to go the same speed. Downhill is longer strides, so I usually don’t take as many steps,” Ho said.

The downhill strategy is crucial.

“My coach says keep your chest forward and that will keep your momentum going instead of leaning back. I leaned forward. I let the momentum carry me and that’s where I let gravity pull me,” he noted.

Ho was the only Warrior to finish in the Top 20, edging ‘Iolani freshmen Devin Pang (10:42) and Keane Palmer (10:47). Kamehameha juniors Maika Gibson (11:52) and Ocean Nakamitsu (11:57) placed 21st and 22nd, respectively.

It was a bit of ghost imagery for all runners in the pandemic, protocol-based format, running only with teammates as one school after another took its turn and left the premises. The meet began at 2 p.m. and was done shortly before 6 p.m. on a wet course. Until the final team, host Mid-Pacific, took the course, the sun shining in what was an otherwise rainy week.

The immeasurables make the difference.

“I thought my team did really well and it was amazing to see how much our runners improved this season. The work everyone put in is the main reason why I was motivated to keep running. I owe a lot to my teammates and coaches for their support,” Ho said.

“William is one of a kind. I’d have to piece together a variety of former athletes to put together some semblance of what Will brings to the team as a runner and a teammate,” Kamehameha Coach Kupaa Hee said. “I think his success in math and his success in general has more to do with the way he’s wired. He’s interested in the details and is able to keep his focus longer than most.”

William Ho of Kamehameha edged Devin Pang of ‘Iolani for the ILH boys cross country individual championship.

There is plenty of support at home, especially leading into race day.

“Before any important meet, it’s always spaghetti. Usually, my mom (Kimberly) makes it. Definitely has to be a big bowl. Usually the Newman’s brand (marinara sauce). And French bread on the side,” Ho said.

No butter.

“I don’t eat butter. Just fresh sliced French bread. I just personally don’t like the taste of butter. I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t,” he said.

Race-day breakfast is basic.

“I have a banana, and toast and honey. Two slices of wheat bread, but I’m not picky on that,” Ho said.

On Saturday, he had lunch before Kamehameha took the course in mid-afternoon.

“I just had two more bananas, and a peanut butter-honey sandwich. Those are always safe for me on race day,” Ho said. “I’ve never really eaten rice on race day. It’s OK before practice. I think it’s probably heavier. Bread is just easier to eat as a light snack.”

There have been wins through the regular season, and after Saturday’s victory, Ho gorged on his favorite post-race meal.

“A burger, usually from Teddy’s Bigger Burgers. No fries,” said Ho, who prefers water over soda. “I don’t drink soda, not because it’s unhealthy. I just don’t like the carbonation. I’m not incentivized to like it, either.”

Ho didn’t have running partners within his family with one exception, Alfred Chun, a.k.a. “Uncle Butch.”

“Once I started running, we got closer, but we don’t run (together) anymore,” Ho said.

It was seventh grade when he went out for the Kamehameha cross country team.

“I came out because I played soccer and I was always one of the faster kids on the team. People said I might like it,” he said.

Between all those miles on the hills of Kapalama Heights, and the numbers crunching in his brain, Ho has ideas about his next step.

“The plan is to run in college if I can. I haven’t heard back from the schools yet, so I’m deciding on my options. Right now, Duke University is a dream school, mainly for education, but the team is a good team,” he said. “It’s one that I might be able to get on to with a little bit of work.”

There are two people Ho looks up to in the worlds of running and mathematics: Jakob Ingebrigsten and Euclid. Ingebrigsten, of Norway, won two gold medals at the 2018 European Championships in the 1,500- and 5,000-meter events. He also broke Norway’s national record in the 5,000 with a time of 13:02. His best time in the 1,500 is 3:28. In the mile, his PR is 3:51.

Off the charts.

“I look up to him because he is a very hard worker and he’s very young, so it’s amazing to see how successful he is at such a young age,” Ho said.

Euclid is considered the father of geometry. Conic sections, anyone?

“I would want to ask him how he got into math, and just be able to see his thought process,” Ho said. “He is such a math genius.”

But could Euclid have completed the second run on the Mid-Pacific hill?

“He might have been busy with his math equations,” Ho said.

Next up is a week of rest before Ho and his harrier teammates rejoin the track and field team. Because spring sports were cancelled last year, he hasn’t run for an ILH track and field title since 2019.

“Usually, I run all the distances, 800 (meters) to 3,000. Sometimes, I’ll run two at a meet, or three. It depends. ILH (championships), I did three in 10th grade. It went OK,” said Ho, who placed second in the 1,500, third in the 800 and fifth in the 3,000.”

Lockdown staples

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Secretariat”

Top 3 food/snacks/drinks

1. Bananas

2. Spaghetti

3. Belvita bars, banana flavor

Top 3 music artists

1. The Police

2. Queen

3. Guns and Roses

New life skill

“I learned to handstand over quarantine.”

Shout outs

“Shout out to my coaches and teammates, who inspire me to keep running, especially Coach (Steve) Jenness, who couldn’t come out to coach this year because of the pandemic.”


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