Samantha Yamamoto wanted to be like her sister LiAnn Yamamoto, a four-time BIIF judo champion.
But an unstoppable opponent got in her way.
The coronavirus pandemic canceled the spring sports season and denied her a chance to carve out a spot for herself among the judoka greats.
“I’m disappointed that I missed out on this season,” she said. “I would have liked to have the opportunity to become a four-time BIIF champ and possibly take states in what I think may be my last year of competitive judo.”
Yamamoto was the only BIIF judoka on a 4 for 4 title quest. So the next one will come in 2024. The candidates will be any freshman who wins BIIF gold in 2021.
“I miss the competition the most,” she said. “Being so busy with school and swimming during the year, I haven’t been able to compete in many club tournaments, although there aren’t too many to begin with. I also miss my coaches who have always been so supportive and have pushed me all these years. A bunch of my closest friends decided to try judo this year, so I was really excited to have some fun with them.”
Yamamoto is majoring in biochemistry on a premed track at UH-Manoa as a provost achievement scholar in hopes of becoming a physician, maybe in Hilo.
Her sister LiAnn is studying abroad in Okinawa. The younger one couldn’t match her elder in BIIF gold but reported that life carries on far from home.
“The situation there is the same as Hilo,” Yamamoto said. “But she’s making the most out of it.”
While Yamamoto was a compelling story, she wasn’t the only one.
How about Kamehameha junior Anela Manuia’s state gold story of 2019?
She defeated Konawaena’s Kapoina Bailey, who’s now playing rugby at Lindenwood University in Missouri, for the HHSAA championship in the 172-pound class.
Bailey was the defending state champion and earlier defeated Manuia at the BIIF championships.
To some, it may have been a huge surprise. But to those who know her, it’s no shock at all.
On Thursday, her family had prepared a foodfest of Pulehu kalbi, spicy tako poke, and poi.
Manuia was having none of that. She was still in champion’s mindset mode — training hard and dieting.
That caught her dad Jaysen Manuia, who’s also the Kamehameha girls golf coach, by surprise.
“It really hit me when I found out why she didn’t eat Thursday and settled for a salad and her self-made healthy shake,” he said. “She felt it was in honor of preparing for states even though it wasn’t happening this weekend. My wife (Janna) literally teared up, and I also felt her silent pain as she yearned to compete this year. She’s been training as hard as ever, alone for the last month, each morning before virtual school and working out in the evening with her siblings as well.”
Champions never take a day off, a reason she’s doubling down for her upcoming senior season to chase double gold, to repeat at states and earn her first BIIF title.
The emotional memories never fade. They only increase with significance over time. Manuia remembers May 4, 2019, at the Stan Sheriff Center quite well.
“Last year, I remember the hard work and dedication,” she said. “I remember the feeling at the beginning of the match and looking at my parents and seeing the joy in their eyes. That’s what I remember most.
“I don’t want to stop working hard. I’ll be on a diet and workout. It’s tough seeing the ono food my parents made for us. But it’s definitely worth it. I’ll come out to a higher standard, mind and body, so it’s worth it.”
Jaysen Manuia also has the What If blues, wondering what kind of junior season golfer Dillon Ah Chong could have had.
He won the BIIF’s only meet at Hilo Municipal and captured Michelle Wie Hawaii State Junior Golf Association Tournament of Champions last December on Maui.
“He really looked poised for an incredible junior season,” Jaysen Manuia said. “The nice thing is Dillon and Anela have one more year as they are both going to be Kamehameha seniors. I’m happy I have these two unique individuals in my life. It’s fun. But at the same time, it’s difficult to put in words how I exactly feel as a coach and parent when dealing with the effects of this virus.”
His daughter is attacking the isolation time with hard work. She runs in the morning before virtual school, pulls a tire to strengthen her judo grip and trains at night again. Her Waiakea Rec judo club coach Darryl “Buck” Wheat suggested the tire pull. If he ever gets a flat and has no jack, he’ll know who to call.
She’s shooting for the stars for her next goal, the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Why aim low, when you’ve already exceeded everyone’s expectations once?
“My real goal is the Olympics in 2024,” Manuia said. “I want to set my standards high and try my hardest.”