This documentary follows Hawai‘i Island’s Daniel Kailikoa Coakley on his journey to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as part of the Philippines team.
Produced by Dawn Kanaiaupio. 2008 Alphamedia Corp.
Excerpt from an interview with Dawn Kaniaupio by Kristy Perez of the Kamehameha Schools’ Kaʻiwakīloumoku Hawaiian Cultural Center.
It’s a story of a Hawaiian boy who comes from Kohala who went to the Beijing Olympics; he was a swimmer. He grew up in Kohala. His father was his coach as he practiced at the Kohala community pool. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Kohala, but it’s a small antiquated pool and the father is just the community lifeguard. I mean, Kohala is just a small community of people. Kailikoa went to school there his whole life. He was born and raised there; his family is living there. As he was swimming as a youngster, he started breaking records throughout the State. He does the fastest race, the 50 yards. So, he holds a lot of records throughout Hawai‘i, and the interesting thing was he comes from this small little place and in the State level, he’s competing against people at Punahou and Kamehameha with all of these resources and beautiful facilities and first notch trainers, but somehow he just had this fabulous talent and he was really good. The basis of his training was very traditional. They went diving, he knew all about very cultural things. All of his training was based on that. It was based on diving and fishing and understanding breathing and being under water for a long time. So these very deep cultural traditions played a very important role in his contemporary life and using in swimming. When he was a sophomore or junior, his father contacted the U.S. Olympics and said, “My son has all these times, he’s really good and what do we have to do to get him on the Olympic team?” They were discouraged, they were first asked, “Where does he train? Who is his coach? What’s his nutrition like?” and all that and the father said, “We come from this small little Hawaiian town and I’m his coach, and it’s very traditional means that we use.” They said that he will never compete at a high level coming from that kind of training. They basically just brushed him off. The family was really devastated at first. For me, it rocked me to the core. He showed the numbers, it didn’t matter. It wasn’t subjective. It was like, “Just look at his times and compare him to everybody else.” Who cares how he’s doing it, for me, it’s fabulous how he’s doing it. So with that, they went to the Philippines because his grandfather had dual-citizenship. They went to the Philippines and talked to the Filipinos there. The Philippines said, “No way,” they don’t want it but they let him swim in the exhibition race they had there with no strings attached. Well, he beat their national champion. So then they stopped and said, “Wait a minute…this could actually be…” So they allowed him to start swimming under their flag for a while and then of course he made the national team for the Philippines. So I followed him from Kohala to Florida and then to the Philippines in his last training session before leaving for China and then I went to China and filmed him at the Olympics and told this story of not giving up our deeply rooted cultural values for anything. The best we can be is hanging on to these things and incorporating it in to our daily lives. It’s not something that we think about a long time ago and those people did it and we’re very different. He is very much just an old soul, this kid. He’s very humble and shy and really strongly rooted in these cultural things. He believes that if his parents had done what they were suggested to do when he was a sophomore which was pull him out of Kohala and put him in someplace like a training facility here or someplace else, he would never have been as good as he was. He was only good because of the community he lived in and the ways that he was trained. And that worked perfectly for him, because amongst the community a lot of people ridiculed the family for not putting the potential that he had first. They felt that they were selling him short by not putting him in these other places. So it became a big issue and there was a lot of negativity around them and what they had done, but that family just stayed solid; they just stayed true to what they believed was best for their son and he gained his strength from living in that community and swimming in this really old, cracked swimming pool. So, for me, that story was just another one of those examples of saying that our young people need to hold fast to these values and don’t think of it as something that was a long time ago. It’s very much alive and well today in you whether you know it or not it’s there. Kailikoa was a perfect example. So he continues to swim, he swims under the Philippine flag. Because he did really well, he was asked, “Will you now try to go back to the U.S. and see…” and he said, “Oh no, I’m not going to quit swimming for the Philippines.” So he’s committed to that which is fabulous. It’s just another fabulous Hawaiian trait [chuckling].
So that film was done and was shown here on commercial television right after the Olympics. We came back from China and maybe it aired a month and a half later right out of the Olympic season. And it’s actually what Hokulani, I think, saw first before working with us. She had seen the film, and I had given her a copy of it, I had told her that I think it’s something young people should see, and she really liked that story. It’s just another one of ‘em and I want that one to make it through the school system more than anything. I want our young people to learn from him.