Olympians In The Making

The Kaua‘i group representing Hui ‘O Hawai‘i includes Billie Jean “Mahina” Waiwaiole, Divine Navalta, coach Tamarine Carvalho, Archie Lanning and Kobe Bryant Iglesia.

Hui ‘O Hawai‘i Special Olympics Kaua‘i athletes are keeping on track with their training, as they prepare for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games this summer.

Billie Jean “Mahina” Waiwaiole, Divine Navalta, Kobe Bryant Iglesia and Archie Lanning have their game faces on. Some practice hurling their bodies into the air running long jumps, while others hoist 6-pound balls in the air for shot put practice and race down the track, doing 100-meter dashes. They are the 808 Warriors Kapa‘a High School athletes who will head to Seattle to compete in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in July. And even though they may not yet have grasped the full extent of what it will mean to be a part of such a huge event, it’s clear that they are getting down to business.

“They hated me last Friday,” jokes coach Tamarine Carvalho.

She wants them to become better athletes, and her enthusiasm to do so is clear as she runs with them on the track at Vidinha Stadium, shouting words of encouragement during a recent training session. Carvalho will be escorting them to the summer competition and has them on a three-days-a-week training program.

Archie Lanning might be nearing his 50th birthday, but his running long jump is just as good as athletes half his age who he will be competing against at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

“You should never be behind me. Ever,” she says to the adult athletes.

The level of athleticism that is required of those competing in the upcoming national event is a step above what these four Special Olympics athletes are used to. They each have their choice of competing in a number of different level-three track events — shot put, running long jump, 100and 200-meter dashes, and a 4×100 relay. Carvalho is also requiring them to set goals for each one they choose to participate in, like improving the 200-meter dash from 43 seconds to 35 seconds by the start of summer.

Iglesia is already well on his way to knocking out the competition, and besides his regular training, he also laces up his sneakers for regular runs around the neighborhood.

“I jog every morning during the weekends,” he says.

Their goals are ambitious, but Carvalho has no doubt they will be accomplished — something that Special Olympics is known to help facilitate. The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games is one way that these athletes are further inspired to be the best that they can be. The event, which happens every four years, will feature more than 4,000 athletes from all 50 states who are chosen by random computer selection process. They will compete in 14 Olympic-type team and individual sports, and some 70,000 spectators are expected to attend.

Coach Leona Sa McDermott helps Billie Jean “Mahina” Waiwaiole perfect her shot put.

“It’s a really big deal,” says Carvalho.

What makes this year even more unique is that it’s the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics, and the first year that as many as four athletes from Kaua‘i are attending.

“That’s really huge,” says Carvalho. “They already get nervous just competing at UH for Summer Games. I don’t think they know the capacity of the number of spectators that will be there at the Husky stadium.”

They are part of the 21 athletes from across the state who are heading to Seattle to represent team Hui ‘O Hawai‘i. In fact, they recently gathered on O‘ahu for an inclusive sports training camp to help get their heads into the game and bond as a unified team.

“You are no longer Kaua‘i, you are now Team Hawai‘i, and you are one,” Carvalho tells them.

The Kapa‘a High School special education teacher, who has voluntarily coached for Special Olympics Kaua‘i for more than a decade, says it takes time and dedication to do what she does. She jokes that after every Summer Games on O‘ahu, she goes through a phase when she concludes that the stress, paperwork and fundraising efforts are too much for her to continue.

Divine Navalta practices the 100-meter dash, one of the events she will be competing in at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games.

“I love my students; I love my athletes,” she says. “As much as you love them, every year I say, ‘I think this is it; I think I’m done.'”

But then she remembers the day she received her official coach shirt following special training on O‘ahu that reads “Inspire Greatness” on the back. She recalls walking onto the field one day during soccer practice with her new shirt on and feeling exceptionally proud of herself.

“I realized at that moment, the joke is on me,” she says. “Because the truth is, the athletes inspire greatness in you.”

That’s why she sticks it out. The athletes give her more than she could ever give them.

“What better place to be than to be around people who are going to make you a better person?” she muses.

Carvalho also coaches her own Special Olympics Kaua‘i delegation that includes 28 athletes from Kapa‘a High School. The activities they participate in throughout the year include bowling, track, soccer, swimming and bocce.

Waiwaiole, who’s been involved with Special Olympics Kaua‘i since elementary school, says she always gives it her all during every competition and she’s looking forward to the upcoming national event.

She particularly enjoys “giving so much aloha to people and saying, ‘Hi,’ and meeting new people.”

Carvalho admits that despite her athletes’ positive attitudes, she’s still nervous for them. But she reminds them that it’s not all about winning. In fact, Special Olympics’ motto, recited at every opening ceremony is, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

And that’s all she can ask for. Of course, she’d love for them to take home the gold.

“But I want them to know that if they gave it their all, it doesn’t matter,” she says.

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