Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy goes from palm trees to flat lands

Jessalyn Castro

Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy, criminal justice junior, trains with assistant football coach and offensive line coach, Alex Herron, during training on the MSU practice fields, Oct. 7, 2014. Photo by Sam Croft

Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy, criminal justice junior, trains with assistant football coach and offensive line coach, Alex Herron, during training on the MSU practice fields, Oct. 7, 2014. Photo by Sam Croft

A trip home for most students only takes a few hours in a car that can be made every other weekend. However, for criminal justice junior Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy, an 8-hour flight will get him back home only twice a year. And he travels home to the southernmost state all for football.

His name means “the coral reef from heaven,” and he was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii. After picking up football in high school he left the islands to continue his career into college playing for Arizona Western Junior College where he was offered a scholarship to play at MSU as a center.

“My dad is from the mainland, so I’ve been to the states before. I wasn’t totally new to it,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy began playing football his freshman year in high school.

“I just gave it a shot and stuck with it,” he said, even when the level of competition rose from the way he played in Hawaii.

“The level of competition is much higher in the states than back at home,” Kennedy said. “There are faster, stronger, and bigger guys here.”

Coming from a different culture and environment, Kennedy said he does not have a problem fitting in with the team.

“We’re pretty close. Of course everyone has his own little group but when we’re on the field everyone’s got each others’ back,” Kennedy said. “Everybody is going to catch each others’ back, there’s no doubt about that, even with our differences.”

Kennedy was also a state champion wrestler in high school but didn’t continue that into college. And although he loves football he said he doesn’t see his career going beyond college. Instead, he has other plans for his future.

“I either want to be a correctional officer or a physical education teacher,” he said. “I want to stay in the states a little before I go back home, but I’ll definitely be going back to Hawaii.”

In Hawaii, Kennedy has had to adjust to different weather and scenery in Texas compared to the tropical islands of Hawaii.

“It’s very humid where I’m from, it’s always 80 percent humidity,” he said. “Hilo gets 141 inches of rain annually.”

Living 10 minutes away from the beach on the Big Island, an eight-or nine-hour drive to Corpus Christi may not even be worth it to Kennedy, but he has never seen the Texas beaches.

“I’ve heard I’ll be kind of disappointed,” he said.

Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy, criminal justice junior, doing some fitness training during team training at the MSU practice fields, Oct. 7, 2014. Photo by Sam Croft

Akoakoa Paleka-Kennedy, criminal justice junior, doing some fitness training during team training at the MSU practice fields, Oct. 7, 2014. Photo by Sam Croft

Kennedy said back home he enjoyed “lifting weights, hanging out with family, going to the beach, cruising around the island looking at the ocean, going on adventures, hanging out with friends, playing cards, listening to music and cooking.”

Some of those, he still enjoys in Wichita Falls. However, there are differences. Kennedy said he is not used to the long bus rides that they take for away games.

“Back at home it could take you four hours to get around the whole island. Over here that’s like nothing,” he said.

Kennedy said the food is one thing that is a lot different here than the traditional food white rice, which he very much enjoys. He said he also “would always throw the hang loose sign,” and the way he spoke was a little bit different.

“I’d call elders (for example my friends’ mom) Auntie, out of respect. Instead of saying “Mrs. Williams” or something like that I would call them Auntie and then their first name,” Kennedy said. “Same with my friends’ dad, I’d call him uncle.”

Having a family that is from Kahului, Maui, Kennedy said he would go there for his family reunion every two years. Other than that, he never visited any of the other 136 islands much.

“Every two years I had my family reunion on my Hawaiian side so I went to Maui,” he said. “The longest I stayed on Oahu was one night, and that was just for a layover.”

Flying over the pacific is scary to Kennedy because he hates flying, but he said he thinks it is cool flying into Honolulu because he can see the submarines in the water around Oahu.

Homesickness isn’t a big problem for Kennedy.

“I miss it for like the first two weeks and then I’m fine. I don’t get as homesick as I usually do anymore,” he said. “When you go home it’s the same thing. You’re just going to see the same people doing what they always do. It kind of gets boring.”

Kennedy said he does get jealous sometimes of his friends that get to go home often because it is a short trip. He only gets to go back home during the summer and winter.

“This winter will be the last time I go home for a year,” he said. “When people say they’re going home for the weekend I’m like, ‘Oh that’s nice’. They have just an hour, 2-hour drive, and I have an 8-hour plane ride.”

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