Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Luka still inspiring young gymnasts

By Lee Cataluna

On Sunday morning, people dropped in to say hello even if they didn't have a daughter competing in the meet. They came from church or broke away from family parties to see Charles and Suzanne Nakoa and to remember Luka.

Ruth Kenyon came all the way from England. Thirty years ago, when she lived in Hawai'i, Kenyon sat with the other parents trying to think of a fitting memorial for their daughters' teammate. Ruth's idea was to dedicate a gymnastics meet to Luka Nakoa. When she found out that meet was still going on all these years later, she and her daughter, Merrily, flew from the U.K. to be here for the anniversary.

"Merrily remembers breaking both wrists coming out of a back flip wrong. Luka was so kind. She came 'round to the house and brought her a T-shirt that said 'two of a kind,' " Kenyon said.

There are so many stories like this about Luka, how she encouraged teammates, had a joyful spirit, a strong work ethic and a generous heart.

On March 28, 1980, 12-year-old Luka was crossing Kāne'ohe Bay Drive on her way to gymnastics practice at Kokokahi gym when a car overtaking two trucks struck and killed her.

Luka's grieving teammates and their parents asked the Nakoas for permission to name the Kokokahi Class II Girls' Invitational Meet in memory of Luka, their only child. Since then, the Nakoas have sponsored the meet, buying lei and medals for the winners and giving every competitor a red rose and words of encouragement.

"In the beginning it was hard," Suzanne said. Now, it is a swirl of laughter and tears, reverence and gratitude, of old friends and new families.

Luana Yee, mom of a past winner of this event, emcees the meet and sobs through telling Luka's story.

"Every year she promises she's not going to cry," Suzanne said. "And every year she cries."

"Not all of us had the pleasure of meeting Luka, but it's as if everyone here has known her," Yee said. Her daughter, Keolamau, 18, feels Luka would want to see young women do great things in the sport. "Her presence is always here," she said.

The Nakoas say the meet really belongs to the gymnasts. "If we can perpetuate the memory of Luka in terms of the kinds of things she stood for, which was athletics, a good education, it's as if she were still here in spirit," Charles said.