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Hiker killed in fall touched numerous lives

  • Ryan Suenaga

Ryan Suenaga, 44, of Kaneohe had a lot to say.

That was evident through his work as a full-time social worker for Kaiser Permanente Hawaii and as a part-time educator for Parents Inc., which addresses parent neglect and child abuse.

"When you first meet him, he seems really quiet and doesn’t have a lot to say at first," said Lisa Groulx, Parents Inc.’s executive director, who knew Suenaga for a decade. "But you find out he’s very dynamic, he’s got so many things going on. … He knew what to say and how to say it."

Hundreds of others thought so as well, as evidenced by the more than 2,000 followers Suenaga amassed on the microblogging website Twitter, and he touched them all through his sharing of his struggles with diabetes and other details of his life. He often helped organize events, including basketball tournaments and dinner parties.

Sunday through yesterday there was an outpouring of grief on Twitter and Facebook, with people remembering his friendliness and willingness to help.

Suenaga was such a prominent member of Honolulu’s social media community that barely an hour would go by without him posting a Twitter update. His final tweet was posted at 8:58 a.m. Sunday as he hiked the Mount Olomana Trail with six friends.

His prolific Twitter stream then went silent. A few hours later, Suenaga would be found dead after falling 150 feet between the steep second and third peaks of the treacherous trail.

Michael Choy, who hiked with Suenaga on Sunday, said the group was about halfway up the third peak when Choy said he couldn’t go further. At 11:13 a.m. Choy tweeted that he was too tired to continue, and posted an online picture of the view from where he rested.


» the athletic diabetic

The rest of the group went ahead. One friend returned, also needing rest.

"From what I have heard, Ryan had wanted to stop as well and told the group he would be waiting at a point," Choy said.

The rest of the group returned shortly before noon, without Suenaga, Choy said.

"There was no way that Ryan had passed me or had gotten behind the forward group coming back, although we had hoped this was the case," Choy said. "We called his cell and shouted to him but received no answer and called 911."

At 12:14 p.m. Sunday, rescue officials received a distress call from the hikers. Emergency officials told the hikers to return down the mountain for a briefing on Suenaga’s condition.

Rescue crews found Suenaga’s body at about 1:45 p.m. More than two hours later, his friends made it back to the foot of the mountain and were informed of his death.

"Our group was comprised of mostly seasoned hikers, Ryan being one of them," Choy said. "With this in mind, I do not know how or why this happened. We lost sight of him for just a short while, and he was gone. … Ryan was the most dedicated person that I have known. There was nothing that he wouldn’t do for someone."

Suenaga taught troubled parents at Parents Inc.’s office in Kane­ohe. Groulx often listened to his two-nights-a-week lessons.

"He has a very unique style, a very easy way of getting to know the clients, gaining their trust and respect and getting through to them," Groulx said. "He had a local style about him. He would talk pidgin to the clients."

Suenaga focused on pediatric social work, working with Kaiser optometrist John Noblezada when children flew in from out of state for treatment.

"Ironically, he would have been an amazing father, yet he was single. … He is the salt of the earth and a part of the backbone of the Hawaii social media community," Noble­zada said.

Cody Onizuka, an Aflac associate and freelance social media consultant, said Suenaga spoke to him last week about starting a scholarship for Buddhist students interested in social work. Onizuka said he intends to work to set up a scholarship in his friend’s honor.

"It’d be a nice way to honor a guy who did a lot for me as well," he said. "It’s hard to put a stamp on what kind of relationship we had, but he was always supportive of my endeavours."

Melissa Chang, also a freelance social media consultant and another prominent local social media figure, said Suenaga often tweeted intimate details of his life.

"At the same time, he was someone who gave a lot of advice," she said. "On Twitter he would give himself. He was generous like that."

Followers would read about his daily challenges as a diabetic, which he detailed in his blog. He was overweight and diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2002, and to improve his health he took up running, biking and other activities. He eventually ran the Great Aloha Run four times and the Honolulu Marathon twice, and traveled to Philadelphia last year to participate in the LIVE­STRONG Challenge 70-mile bicycling event.

"It rained so hard that Lance Armstrong only rode 45 miles on event day," said Jennifer Yuan in Philadelphia, who rode with Suenaga. The two met online through a cycling blog.

Yuan said she had to stop to stay with a rider who was struggling with severe leg cramps. Suenaga almost finished the course, but didn’t because he decided to stop and help Yuan.

"He swore he was gonna come back and show that course who was boss," Yuan said. "I can’t believe he won’t be riding with us again."

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