Kumu and Native Hawaiian advocate Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu credits former Kamehameha Schools Head Football Coach Blane Gaison and Canoe Coach Wallace Wong with encouraging her to stand up for what she believes in and to persevere in the face of adversity.
“My coaches were and are amazing,” Wong-Kalua said, noting that they both continue to educate and coach youths today.
“Coach Gaison and Coach Wong both inspired me to be a better and stronger person that I imagined myself to be. They did not give up on me and I’m sure that they could sense maybe my world was going to be somewhat different than the other players but still they did not exclude me, they accepted me, they kept me a part of the team.”
Coach Gaison taught his players about having dignity and respect both for themselves and for their opponents, she said.
“Coach Gaison instilled in us the belief that we are winners regardless of whether we win a game or not,” Wong-Kalu said. “He told us to hold our heads up when we would otherwise keep our heads down, but also showed us how to keep our heads down when we found success. So it was a balance.”
Coach Wong pushed her to reach farther than she ever imagined she could, Wong-Kalu said. “He would pull up in his kayak next to us in a six-man canoe out there in the open ocean and I can remember him saying ‘Come on Wong! Come on Wong! Come on Wong!’ He would never let up.”
Even today, when she feels like she’s done what she can and wants to quit, she’ll hear Coach Wong in her psyche urging her on.
“And there’ve been a lot of times when I’ve wanted to give up, but I hear him,” she said.
Their firm and staunch commitment to their sports, their players and the ability of their athletes to succeed “coupled with their quiet acceptance of the fact that every person is different” is what motivated her, she said.
“I thank them for their acceptance and their nurturing of me and my teammates.”
Wong-Kalu said that while some people may have believed that she was a confident high schooler, she was not.
“It was a facade,” she said. “I did not have the confidence, that level of heart or that level of conviction that I’ve had to learn. And it was my coaches who planted that and it was up to me to water it, give it sunlight and nurture it.”
Largely because of the two coaches, as well as other teachers through her life, she’s been able to move past her self-doubts and has become a teacher and kumu hula herself.
“I only hope that they see that this face they helped to coach is that of a person that continues to avail herself for the benefit of her community and her fellow Hawaiians, uplifting the name of Hawaii, our language and our culture,” Wong-Kalu said. “I will always apply myself and aspire to honor the legacy that they instilled in so many of us.”
Those who enter the teaching profession should only do so if they’re sincere about what they’re undertaking, she said.
“It is of the utmost importance that teachers, mentors and coaches have aloha, love, care and consideration for the youth that they take under their wing, Teachers make or break us.”