Q&A: Kaiser track athlete Kristen O’Handley

Kaiser's Kristen O'Handley set the OIA East high jump mark in the OIA Championships this year. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.
Kaiser’s Kristen O’Handley set the OIA East high jump mark in the OIA Championships this year. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell/Star-Advertiser.

She’s busy enough, but seems to thrive on the nonstop life of being a Kaiser scholar-athlete.

Breaking records and competing in as many as six track and field events is par for the course in the life of Kristen O’Handley. She even added the shot put and long jump to her resume — qualifying for states in the latter — but will focus on “only” six events at the Island Movers/HHSAA State Championships this weekend at Keaau High School’s facility.

O’Handley, who also holds down a part-time job despite training year-round and achieving a 4.0 grade-point average, kindly spent time chatting with Hawaii Prep World about everything, including Grey’s Anatomy — which is only fitting because she spent some time at the hospital on Sunday night.

“It’s minor. Everyone on our team is getting sick right now. It’s nothing to worry about. My doctor thought I was crazy for going to him with a sore throat. I just didn’t want to take a chance with everything going on this week,” she said.

She was featured in Tuesday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Kristen O’Handley
Kaiser track and field

Q&A / Favorites

Athlete: Allyson Felix.

HPW: Who is Allyson Felix?

She runs the 400-meters for Team USA. She got beat in the last two meters of the race. The girl who beat her dove across the line. She trained for 12 years and this girl beat her in the last .2 seconds of the race.

HPW: If she hadn’t dove, she would’ve lost?

KO: I think it depends and I think the girl had the perfect dive at the perfect time.

HPW: So there should be a law against this kind of thing?

KO: She trained definitely as hard as Allyson, and I’ve beaten people by .1 or lost by .1 and it’s emotionally crushing.

HPW: Would you ever do that?

KO: Honestly, I have horrible coordination so I wouldn’t chance that.

Team: Calgary Flames

HPW: Are you from Canada?

KO: I was born in Calgary. I don’t follow other sports, but I definitely try to keep up with hockey. It’s one of the two most exciting sports to watch.

HPW: What’s the other one?

KO: Curling.

HPW: You can’t really say curling is an exciting sport without someone asking you to explain why.

KO: It’s, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s weird. Like shuffleboard on ice. I could never do it. It’s just the Canadian in me.

Food (at home): Cheesy Country Style Potatoes.

HPW: Is this store-bought or home-made?

KO: I make this.

HPW: How does this happen?

KO: You just cut up potatoes, season it and stick it in the frying pan. And when it’s done, just put Kraft singles on it. It’s the best thing ever.

HPW: You season it with what?

KO: Garlic salt, butter and onion. It’s so good. I had them for dinner tonight.

HPW: How often do you eat this enormously high-calorie, high-carb, high-fat meal?

KO: Like bi-weekly, at least.

HPW: So this is your secret fuel?

KO: I don’t really count calories or fat. If it tastes good I’ll eat, but I’m really picky so I make a lot of my own food.

HPW: Well, this is good that a very busy student-athlete can cook and will probably never go hungry.

Food (eating out): Mac and Cheese

HPW: So you’re a cheese person?

KO: This is the only thing on the menu that is 99 percent of the time really good.

HPW: Where is this Kristen O’Handley-approved mac and cheese?

KO: CPK (California Pizza Kitchen). Any of them.

Hobby outside of sports: Shell diving and painting

HPW: This sounds like a complete diversion from your everyday life.

KO: The shells just wash in from the reef, so you just dive down.

HPW: How far deep?

KO: Maybe eight feet.

HPW: The painting is of who or what?

KO: I like to paint animals. I didn’t really take art until this year. I took AP Art. It’s actually very intense contrary to common belief.

HPW: What’s the hardest thing about it?

KO: I paint really, really slowly, so getting five pieces in a few weeks is kind of hard. And it’s AP level, so ugh.

Movie: Clueless

HPW: This sounds familiar.

KO: It’s an ‘80s movie, sort of a best time zone of movies.

HPW: Who’s in this?

KO: I’m horrible with names. It’s a romantic comedy.

TV show: Grey’s Anatomy

HPW: What makes this show so good?

KO: There’s drama with the ER and you learn stuff crazy stuff about the human body. And the drama of the characters takes away from the goriness that the show brings, so there’s a kind of balance.

HPW: You are, I think, the third or fourth featured student-athlete this year to confess to a fixation with this TV show. I gave up on it during the first season when it became more about crazy romantic affairs than everything else. Thirteen years later, it is a dynastic series success, so what do I know.

Video game: none

HPW: It seems like less and less people like video games.

KO: We can just go on the internet, use social media. I think also because we live in Hawaii, there’s so much to do outside.

Music artist: Drake.

HPW: Everyone likes Drake.

KO: He’s Canadian, like curling and hockey. It all ties back to that, but it’s also that he’s very good. That’s why Justin Bieber didn’t make the cut. Drake is a decent person and I feel like that makes the difference.

Teacher (elementary through high school): Mr. (Andy) Lee (my art teacher).

HPW: This is a bit of confusion here. You just said, there’s so much going on, so many demands in AP Art, and yet, he is your favorite teacher.

KO: He’s really encouraging, that’s why. He’s calm and makes what you do feel good.


KO: Currently a 4.2 but my cumulative is a 4.0.

HPW: You should be proud of this. Do you have any regrets that it isn’t even higher.

KO: It’s hard to balance the time. Kaiser has more than 20 valedictorians and I’m one of them. Technically, they’re locked in, but third-quarter grades are important for the ceremonies.

HPW: That’s incredible how anyone can hit that 4.0 level. Especially a year-round athlete.

Class: Psychology

HPW: More and more students are interested in this.

KO: It’s really cool to learn about the human mind. So much of what you do comes from the mind, so much untapped potential, including sports.

HPW: How do you apply this?

KO: My friend and I write our PRs (personal records) everywhere, doodling on our papers.

HPW: How does that affect you?

KO: I want to run a 56 in the 400, and mentally I can’t, but physically I think I can, and seeing it makes me want to run fast.

HPW: What’s your PR in that event?

KO: 58.05 for the season, but 58.01 my sophomore year.

Place to relax: The beach 

Motto/scripture: “No matter how slow you go, your still lapping everybody on the couch”

HPW: That’s funny. Not so funny for those of us on the couch too long.

KO: I found that google and it stuck.

What your mom (Colleen) says that you can’t forget:  

KO: My mom always just says, “it doesn’t matter as long as you have fun.” As you can tell she isn’t very competitive.

What your dad (Brad) says that you can’t forget:

KO: My dad always says “pain is temporary so just push harder.”

HPW: Classic, he sounds like the individual who came up with “Pain is only weakness leaving the body.”

KO: Exactly.

HPW: Is your dad a former runner?

KO: He high-jumped in Canada in high school, and then at national meets.

HPW: What do you think of his athletic career?

KO: He high-jumped 7-2 which is more than I could ever do. He was pretty good.

What your coaches say that you can’t forget:

KO: My coaches always say, “Give it your all because if you don’t, your only cheating yourself,” which I think about at every practice. That’s all I think of. When it’s time to do the last one, I don’t want to cheat myself.

Rank your favorite T&F events to compete in: 
(1) High Jump
(2) 200M
(3) 4x400M
(4) 100M
(5) 4x100M
(6) 400M

HPW: High jump is your favorite, not the running events. Is this because of your dad?

KO: He definitely did lead me into the sport. I practice at the meets. Since we only practice there that’s the only time we have a pit.

HPW: Did you just say something like, you don’t practice the high jump at all except when you go to an actual meet?

KO: Yes.

HPW: So this kind of leads into the fact that Kaiser has no field and track because of ongoing renovations, and you guys have been training at Koko Head District Park. What’s that like?

KO: It’s a lot different than training on a track. There’s no set distances. The running we do is on the road, on cement, dodging cars, running up the hill.

HPW: It must have been a bummer when the renovations began.

KO: At the beginning I was bummed we couldn’t practice and have meets at our own field, but it’s an edge up to run on fields and hills. And it helps us and the road takes away from it, but overall it’s been pretty good this year.

HPW: Coach (Kevin Kruszona) says the preseason was all about running hills and on the baseball fields at Koko Head. Did you go up that steep trail to the top?

KO: We don’t run up Koko Head, but we run on the other hills there.

HPW: That crazy hike up the slope — are those steps or a stairway?

KO: Those are railroad tracks. I’m pretty sure they are, I definitely could be wrong. But there are bunkers up there.

HPW: The high jump is very individual, timing the steps. The relay is so different. Isn’t race day just insane in the relays?

KO: Relays this year are so hard for us without having a track. It’s a lot of nerves and the adrenalin takes over and you don’t hear anything but your teammate.

How does your track and field affect your daily life during the season and offseason? 

KO: Track is a huge part of the way my time is spent so everything is worked in around it from work to friends to going to the beach. During season everything I do has some relation to track because I do it for two hours a day on weekdays, plus the meet on the weekend. so besides that and working and school there isn’t a whole lot of time for other activities. During off season that cools down a bit but I still run an hour a day five days a week but at least in off season I have more time for friends and family.

What middle and elementary schools did you attend? 

KO: I attended Hahaione Elementary and Niu Valley Middle School.

What youth sports/teams did you play for? What club do you play for and what are the daily commitments like year-round?

KO: I ran for the Hawaii Kai Track Club when I was a lot younger along with playing AYSO soccer, but it wasn’t until high school when I got more serious and ran during the summer with Godspeed Track Club.

HPW: How good were you at soccer?

KO: I was competitive. I was decent. Soccer never really became my thing.

HPW: Coach Rick Chin and his staff at Godspeed do an amazing job.

KO: It was really rigorous and intense. It definitely helped me.

HPW: Let’s talk about your personal records. The high jump, 5-5.25 is a new OIA East record.

KO: I don’t have a pit to practice in, but I do weight lift and do vertical jump to make up for lost time. It all balances out.

HPW: Your 200-meter, 25.31 seconds

KO: I broke the East record for that. I felt pretty good. I always felt it was one of my weaker events, but now I’m pretty confident.

HPW: 4×400 relay.

KO: We’re not as strong as our sophomore year, but it’s kind of a new (mindset). We’re not the target anymore, so we’re pushing harder than ever.

HPW: 100 meters, 12.31.

KO: I’m hoping to get a little faster. The state record is in the 12.1 range.

HPW: Is Keaau a fast track?

KO: I’ve never competed on the Big Island. I do know it’s going to be windy. Mind over matter.

HPW: The 400 meter is the least favorite of your six events.

KO: It’s a really hard event and it comes right in the middle of a meet, so it’s quite the inconvenience.

KO: OIAs when I came around that corner and I felt like I was in quicksand, my mind tries to encourage me to push harder, and when I do, it always surprises me what my body can do.

HPW: So this ties back to the weight training, maybe, because said getting that weight room was a nice addition for the track team, especially the girls. Adding muscle equals adding speed and endurance?

KO: it’s a huge deal because all of your competition is going to be running, but that extra thing, it’s a huge factor.

HPW: Which weight-lifting exercises work best for you?

KO: Squats for sure because they work every muscle, and then probably the calf machine and the hamstring machine are the ones I do every time I get in the gym, getting the core in shape.

HPW: How many days a week?

KO: I try to go three to four days a week (in the offseason). You’re not putting on too much muscle for the actual season and slowing down.

HPW: Rest and recovery are crucial during season.

KO: Definitely. I don’t take any chances with injuries, if my body says to rest I don’t take any chances.

HPW: Do you have a time budget?

KO: I basically have school, track work and free time after that.

HPW: Where have you travelled for track and field?

KO: I went with my best friend Tommi Hintnaus to Humble, Texas my freshman year for the junior olympics, as well as University of Oregon for a track camp the following year. Additionally this past year I went to the Junior nationals in Edmonton, Canada to compete.

HPW: You compete for Canada! Of course. It makes sense. What was it like?

KO: Seeing the different competition from different countries is crazy. Seeing them run made me realize how small Hawaii is in the track community. I have to try so much harder than I am now.

HPW: Where are you going to college?

KO: Portland State. I’m going to try and major in marketing, but that could change.

What do you like to do — or what’s something else you’re good at — that would surprise most people?
KO: I enjoy painting in my free time even though i’ve only ever taken art for one year.

What is your ultimate dream/bucket list? Where would you like to travel, what life would you like to have as an athlete? And away from (or after) sports? 

KO: I want to travel to every continent in the world, swim with sharks, and go on a safari before I die. I especially want to travel to Greece and Tahiti.  As an athlete I would love to travel around competing and touring the world. Away from sports I just want to work a job I love and not be tied down to one place. 

What is the history and background of your name?

KO: When I was born my mom didn’t know what to name me so they left the hospital without filling out the name papers so the hospital named me “Baby Girl O’Handley”. So my dad said just to name me Kristen because he liked it and at two weeks old I had my first legal name change. 

HPW: So your mom had some choices and wasn’t sure, and your dad was set on Kristen.

KO: They were definitely debating about it at the time. Once they found out it would be “Baby Girl” unless they chose a name, they got it done.

HPW: Do you have sisters or brothers?

KO: I have two older sisters, Hailey and Stephanie. They finished college and they live in Canada. We moved here when I was 2 and they were already in elementary school, so they’re more familiar with Canada than I am.

HPW: Pretty soon, you’ll be off to college. Your parents have gone through some empty-nesting. Once you go to Portland State, they’ll be consoling each other, or… they’ll be living it up.

KO: It’s going to be a huge change. They’ll be bummed, but they’re always running after be so they’ll be glad to get a rest.

HPW: Let’s reverse back a little. Kaiser. Mid-sized school. Quite a success in track and field. What’s the legacy you and your classmates will leave behind? Is the next group of Cougars ready?

KO: I think our coaches are always there and they don’t think it’s temporary because they’re giving so much of their time to us, so dedicated to us, and the athletes coming up. They’re at practice for two hours a day, coming on Saturdays when they don’t have to, team meetings in the offseason, preseason. It’s not a season thing to them. It’s a lifestyle every day in the summer and it’s no problem to them.

HPW: You have a part-time job on top of all the studying and training?

KO: I work at Sophie’s Gourmet Hawaiian Pizzeria.

HPW: You like it?

KO: I like dealing with people for the most part.

HPW: What does it take to make a great pizza?

KO: Less is more in my opinion. It’s all make your own there, but I definitely think less ingredients is more. Then again I’m very picky.

Any shout-outs or additional thoughts are welcome. Mahalo!

KO: I’d like to just say how much I appreciate all the encouragement my teammates Tommi Hintnaus, Juliette Lum, Hannah and Cassidy Hollenbeck give me. They’re always there, they compete in so many events and give their hearts to the championships. They are truly amazing athletes that never give up and put their all into the sport. 


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