If only there was a time machine, Christmas Togiai Jr. would go back to that moment before the knee injury.
It was a crucial play in a close game with Kamehameha ahead of Kahuku with less than 3 minutes left in the state-tournament semifinal round. Togiai drove the right side, as he had earlier in the game for a bucket, and collapsed. He left the game, returned with his knee wrapped up, but couldn’t finish. The Warriors won the game, but Togiai’s season was over.
If he was to do it all again?
“I would’ve taken a 3 instead,” he said.
A day later, hours after Togiai learned it was a tear of the ACL, Kamehameha lost to Maryknoll in the state title game. The three weeks since have been completely uncharted territory for the leading playmaker of a team that was ranked No. 1 for most of the season.
“I’m focusing on recovery, I guess. I’m still on the volleyball team. I watch them play,” said Togiai, who is on crutches since having surgery last Thursday. “Handling the pain is not that bad, but I can’t even move my leg by myself. It’s kind of hard. I’m having to depend on everyone else to help me with everything. That’s what sucks the most.”
His mother, Jane, has helped around the clock.
“She told me that this part of my life is a small chunk in the big picture. I was super sad, and she came to my room and said this is a short time. You have the rest of your life. You can’t dwell on the whole thing. It’s a hard pill to swallow, though.”
Togiai gets a big lift, literally, from classmates and teammates Kordel Ng, Skyler Ramos and Bailey Lee.
“They came over one weekend to help move my leg and help me get out of bed,” Togiai said.
Togiai has a 3.8 grade-point average. His plan is to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and train to become a commercial pilot. He has no interest in what comprises his injury or the minutiae of the rehabilitation process.
“I guess it’s different for everyone. Coming out of surgery, the guy was bending my knee already. It was so sore,” he said. “The pain spreads up to your quad. It feels weird. It feels like it’s about to break again when they bend it.”
The ACL was replaced with a piece of his patella, Togiai said. But the extent of knowledge stops there.
“I think it’s part of your hamstring. I don’t even know, to be honest. I was just so bummed that we lost, I didn’t even care,” Togiai said.
The patellar tendon graft is secured by attached plugs of bone in most circumstances.
“Duct tape,” Ng said. “I was there.”
“Super glue,” Togiai added.
The two friends go back a ways. They played flag football during their elementary school years. When St. Francis closed its doors last year, Ng applied to Kamehameha, which accepted him last summer. Togiai believes they would have been a force on the gridiron, but he was still suffering from a torn left labrum suffered during volleyball season. Neither played football last fall.
“I went to some of the (football) workouts, but I kept reaggravating it,” Togiai said of the injury, which still isn’t 100 percent. “I asked my doctor, can you do both surgeries at once? He said, “How are you going to use the crutches?’ “
For now, camaraderie and jokes get Togiai’s mind off the ordeal.
“When I got hurt, I didn’t look up anything about the ACL. I could feel the pop. That’s how I knew something was wrong. The trainers made me jump around and stuff, but that was just my adrenaline. I went back in and every time I tried to push off my leg, it just wasn’t working. Something was wrong,” he said. “It was already busted. Then the next morning, I couldn’t move my leg.”
The valiant effort was no surprise. The injury could have been worse, Togiai said.
“The doctor saw the MRI and told me I got lucky it was only my ACL. He said usually when you tear an ACL, you tear other stuff like the meniscus. When I went back in, if I did something wrong, I could’ve extended my rehab by five more months,” he said. “He said I have double-jointed knees, so they way I tore mine is my knee hyperextended. It went backwards. It didn’t know when to stop. That’s when it popped.”
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is in Prescott, Ariz. Togiai lights up when he thinks about the future.
“They have a flight program and everything. We had a career day last year, and this pilot came and talked about how he came from Nanakuli, he was poor and his mom was working three jobs. He came in with a Rolex and he was flexing on all of us,” Togiai said. “Now he lives in Kahala. He was 35. Pretty comfortable.”
Togiai’s step-by-step vision didn’t pan out, but the end goal is the same.
“I called my coach (Eric Fundalewicz). My plan was to win the state championship and then call him up. Double whammy, good news. But I ended up calling him and telling him, we didn’t win and I have a torn ACL,” Togiai said. “He was like, ‘OK. Everything’s the same. You can redshirt your first year if you have to.’ I took a visit up there in the summer and I’d been talking to him since then.”
Embry-Riddle (9-16, 4-10) plays in the California Pacific Conference, where it finished seventh out of nine teams. The men’s basketball program began five years ago under Coach Fundalewicz.