Magnificent Nonprofit – Kokokahi Gymnastics Team (KGT): Kids first, Gymnasts second
By Renée Tillotson & Sarah Hodges
Kokokahi gym provides a space for children between the ages of 1 year to 18 years old to develop and grow not only as a gymnast but as a human being. Here failing is never an option: gymnasts are always supported to pick themselves back up. This local gymnastics studio teaches the values of perseverance, dedication, commitment, courage and ‘ohana – and they practice what they preach. While encouraging each gymnast to strive for their personal best, Kokokahi puts the wellbeing of their athletes before all other considerations.
Founded as a part of the YWCA in 1969, Kokokahi went on to become an independent nonprofit organized by the gymnasts’ parents in 1978. It has inhabited/occupied the same building in Kaneohe since 1983, and 37 years later it is still running strong.
We spoke with three members of the Kokokahi ‘ohana (extended family / community), all of whom shared the ways this non-profit gymnastics organization has impacted their lives or their loved one’s for the better.
The pandemic has brought on large challenges for the organization this year, yet their values of resilience and perseverance, which they teach to their students, give them an especially strong foundation to weather the times. Their hope to reopen soon and vigilantly maintain the safety and health of their members. “The gymnasts need their gym,” Siril Naluai, executive director of Kokokahi, simply states. When gymnasts have been allowed to practice, they wear masks continuously through their vigorous exercise, which coach Kati Breazeal says may actually constitute good conditioning for them!
Human beings first, then Gymnasts. This is one of the key missions that Head Coach Kati highlights in her philosophy of her coaching and the overall atmosphere of Kokokahi. She reflects on her gymnastics training growing up in Austin, Texas, and integrates the variety of coaching styles she received into the best possible conditions for her students to develop into strong, confident, kind and responsible individuals. She explains how the physical and psychological challenges of gymnastics requires a keen concentration, and even the most dedicated gymnast can in any moment make a wrong move, and be out of the career. For this reason, it is just as important if not more, to also consider the child’s growth as a human being.
Gymnastics as a sport is synonymous with rigor and strength. The awareness required to maneuver one’s body through flips, jumps, flying through the air, and swinging upside down, demands steady hours, weeks and years of practice, trying the same move and new moves over and over again, inevitably crashing on some occasions, sometimes taking flight, always progressing. Children who train in this acute physical and mental control gain invaluable life lessons.
Sage Clarke, whose younger sister Skye has done a lot of aerial work with us at Still & Moving Center, is part of a four-sister family who has been attending Kokokahi for well over a decade. Sage calls KGT her second home. Now age 11, Sage tells about her experience of coming to Kokokahi literally since she was born. Training within Kokokahi’s Junior Olympic program most of the time since age five, Sage was practicing 3 hours a day, 5 days a week until Covid interrupted everyone’s schedules.
Sage explains, “Gymnastics is a hard sport because you can’t rely on anyone else to help you out – even though we are all a family on the team. It’s not like volleyball, for example. In gymnastics, there’s no one else who can do the trick for you. I had to learn independence.” When Sage has mental blocks, she works through them, as she did learning tricks on the balance beam such as back walkovers and back handsprings. “So I started on the lower beams and worked my way up to the regulation height. It took lots of persistence,” she said.
Whether Sage or her fellow gymnasts push on to become Junior Olympic or even Olympic athletes, Kokokahi inculcates in them persistence through fears and unknown territory, working as a community, and discovering new levels of skill and confidence in whatever life path they pursue. They learn to lie still and visualize their goals and dreams, then get up and give it a test flight. And these kids from Kokokahi soar!