Over the past several years, numerous student-athletes from Hawai'i have made an impact at UAA institutions.
Their backgrounds and stories are as diverse as the demographics of the island itself, the state with the greatest Asian population in the U.S. In fact, according to the most recent census in 2010, only 6.6 percent of the state's population are Native Hawai'an and fewer than 10 percent are Native Hawai'an or other Pacific Islander.
A common thread with those who grew up in Hawai'i was realizing how magical a place the island was to grow up when they went to the mainland.
"When you grow up there, you get complacent. You get used to it," said Tristan Medios-Simon of the NYU men's soccer team. "I grew up on the water. Every weekend, our friends would come over and we would swim and fish, catching our own food for the weekend. I took it for granted at the time."
Photo: Junior Tristan Medios-Simon of NYU
"I was always going to the beach, hiking, and playing sports," Medios-Simon added. "A lot of us who grow up there just want to get off the island and experience the mainland. Then when we do, we notice how good we had it growing up. Before school, we would go to the beach at 6 a.m. and go body boarding and surfing. Where else can you do that?"
"Hawai'i was a great place to grow up," said Spencer Ho, who played soccer with Medios-Simon in high school and is now at University of Chicago. "Everyone there is really friendly. There really is an 'Aloha Spirit.' It is like a family."
Photo: Spencer Ho with local singer Anthea
"The more I experience, the more I realize how special it was to grow up in Hawai`i," said Marissa Miyagi, who competes in cross country and track & field for Case Western Reserve University. "The Hawaiian Islands hold true to their reputation as a 'melting pot.' So many cultures coexist with one another. This creates a diverse atmosphere filled with different people, foods, and practices. In essence, I've been able to travel the world by just walking outside. I've also come to appreciate the weather so much more! Running around in humid, 90 degree weather beats -12 degrees with wind chill any day in my book!"
Photos: Sophomore Marissa Miyagi of Case Western Reserve University
"I absolutely enjoyed growing up in Hawai'i. I wouldn't have changed anything about it," said Alyssa Poentis of NYU, the 2015 UAA Women's Golf Rookie of the Year and two-time first team All-Association selection. "Something funny I realized after going to school is how at home, I could predict the temperature without looking at the weather application. On the mainland, even if it is sunny outside, it could still be 30 degrees. In Hawai'i, I took it for granted that if it's sunny, I could wear shorts during any season and I wouldn't get too cold."
"I took a lot of things for granted," said Austin Darmawan, the 2016 UAA Baseball Co-Player of the Year from Washington University. "There is so much to do like hiking and water sports. I competed in kayaking for fun. It is really nice to have those things in my background."
"It was nice growing up in Hawai’i, where sunny days and visits to the beach were the norm," stated Shanna-Lei Dacanay, who played four years for the Washington University women's basketball team, graduating in 2009. "I didn’t ever think of it as a dream destination while growing up because it was just 'home' to me, but after leaving for an extended amount of time, my appreciation grew for being able to call such a paradise 'home.'"
Photo: 2009 Washington University graduate Shanna-Lei Dacanay
"I loved it. It was a really great place to grow up," said Daniel Pietsch of Emory University, who captured the 400-meter title at the 2016 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships. "I didn’t really begin to appreciate it until the end of high school when I realized I wouldn’t be there forever. I fully realized how good it was when I left. It is an amazing place."
"Growing up in Hawai'i, I didn't realize how great I had it until I left for St. Louis," said current Washington University football player Josiah Situmeang. "I wasn't a 'beach bum' by any means, but I enjoyed going to the beach to swim or fish, and being able to do so with great weather during any month of the year is something I especially miss about home. The fresh seafood and raw fish, things not easily attainable in the center of the country, are my favorite foods and what I long for most when I am at school."
Photo: Senior Josiah Situmeang of Washington University
"Hawai'i is truly a melting pot of cultures and nationalities, which makes it a great place to be," Situmeang continued. "You'll see a mix of native Hawaiian, Polynesian, Asian, and American influences on the culture, food, and lifestyles in Hawai'i. True to its island life stereotype, everything seems to be more relaxed and laid back. People walk slower, aren't always on time, and for the most part we 'drive with aloha.'"
"Growing up in Hawai'i was great," added Andrew Skalman, who played four seasons on the Washington University football team and graduated on 2013. "You rarely had to worry about the weather - I don't think I ever checked the weather app on my phone before moving to St. Louis. I lived 10 minutes from the beach and it never took more than an hour to drive anywhere on the island."
Photo: 2014 Washington University graduate Andrew Skalman (far upper right) on episode of Hawaii Five-0
There were other benefits Skalman appreciated about living on the island. "The food was great. You can't beat eating seafood caught the same day," he said. "The combination of different cultural influences - Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hawaiian, etc. made for a variety of great local food spots."
"The four years in college have opened my eyes to how truly different Hawai'i is. The people, the culture, the food, and the music are all unique," said 2015 Washington University graduate Quincy Marting, who played football with both Situmeang and Skalman. "Besides the stereotypical grass huts and skirts, riding dolphins and sea turtles around, growing up in Hawai'i was as good as it sounds. Perfect weather year round, beautiful beaches, refreshingly cold water, and laid back vibes are indeed what I grew up with."
Photo: 2016 Washington University graduate Quincy Marting
"In Hawai'i we have a saying,' Lucky to live in Hawai'i,' which represents how most of us feel about our home," stated Patrick Sheehan, who was named Most Outstanding Wrestler and earned All-America honors in his senior season at NYU in 2014-15. "Other than that, growing up there was like growing up anywhere else except that we can drive from the beach to the mountains in 10 minutes."
"Growing up in Hawai'i didn't really strike me as being very different until I went away for college and realized how different/cool it was," said Nick Kwon, a cornerback for Case Western Reserve University who earned first team All-Association honors in 2015.
"Growing up in Hawai'i was pretty much a dream, and I would not have wanted to grow up anywhere else," said Christine Tamura, who is in her first season playing volleyball for CWRU. "You hear about the 'Aloha Spirit,' but it's such a real thing. Everyone on the island genuinely cares about each other and looks out for each other, and it makes the island so connected. It also doesn't hurt that I can go to the beach any time I want to."
Blayne Fuke, who graduated from University of Rochester in 2010 and currently serves as an assistant baseball coach at Vassar College, had an interest one may not expect in Hawai'i. "I played inline hockey for two years and one year of ice hockey," he said. "Yup, ice hockey! There’s only one rink on the island of Oahu, about 30 minutes from my house, and I always looked forward to waking up early Sunday mornings to play."