Do What You Can’t: An Interview with Yonni Kepes

23 October 2017

Yonni Kepes is a young man with big aspirations. This 17-year old from Waipara, North Canterbury became the youngest person ever to finish a 100km running race in New Zealand when he completed the Taupo Ultramarathon 100km on 14 October. Not only did he complete the race in 12:10:12, he also placed 1st in the Under 20 category and 16th overall.

Yonni Kepes

"The race was incredible in so many different ways. I thoroughly enjoyed running the new distance and becoming the youngest person in New Zealand to ever finish a 100km race. I'm super happy and looking forward to more great races such as this to come."

Running has always been in his life.

“I started out casually running in 2009 when my dad became obsessed with running half marathons. I’d compete in a couple of 10km events each year and running was just a small part of my life. This all changed in 2014 when I ran my first half marathon. Not only was it the worst race I’ve ever run in my life, but it also introduced me to long distance trail running and the spark that has today become ultra-trail running. To date I’ve run over 20 marathons and four ultra-distance events.”

After he finishes high school in 2018, his plan is to travel to the UK for a year to work and pursue his dream to be an ultra-trail runner racing across the world in some of the big events such as Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) and Hardrock 100.

In between school and training, Yonni has also managed to fit in serving on the Hurunui Youth Council since 2016. This year, he’s stepped up to be the Deputy Chairperson.

“I saw as a unique opportunity to connect with other young people my age and help make a difference for the youth in my community. Being involved has given me a broader perspective of the issues in our district that affect young people and how I can make a difference to their lives.

I’m passionate about issues to do with sport and the environment. I believe that every New Zealand kid should have the opportunity to participate in sport and be supported in their endeavours. In terms of the environment, and as future leaders, I believe that it is important that young people step up and help to make a difference in the environment and are given a voice in the solutions that are being created to serve New Zealand into the future.” 

One of the projects that he’s championed in his capacity as Deputy Chairperson is the Waikari Fun Run and Walk, a local event that occurs in the Hurunui District. It was a big success.

“I saw it as an opportunity to increase the involvement of young people in sport in the Hurunui. It was also an opportunity to help the small towns after the earthquake in November last year and bring more people into them. We held a successful event and ended up with over 150 competitors – the most ever!” 

Yonni has recently been inspired by a popular YouTube star, Casey Neistat, and his video ‘Do What You Can’t’, where he talks about how often young people are told they ‘can’t’ or it’s ‘not possible’. Yonni has this to say:

“Anything is possible in my eyes. For a young person, it’s about pushing the boundaries and really pushing their project. Even if it requires a lot of work and struggles to complete the project, keep pushing as the rewards will be massive. Too often I was told that it wasn’t possible for a child of my age to run ultra-marathons, yet I pursued, kept my head high, and now I’m experiencing the successes and rewards.”

He has this advice for other young people:

“First: watch Casey’s video and become inspired. Second: dream up your project however big or however small. Third: go for it. Push your idea and do whatever you can to create a success. Don’t take no as an answer, just do it.”

With such determination and motivation apparent in everything he does, we get the feeling that Yonni is on the fast track to big things.