Hilo’s Kahaunaele: a ‘special’ special ed kid

Arnold Kahaunaele is a two-time state track participant. The special ed student at Hilo has a chance to become a four-time participant. Jerry Campany / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Arnold Kahaunaele is a two-time state track participant. The special ed student at Hilo has a chance to become a four-time participant. Jerry Campany / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

So you think you’re so smart.

Not you, necessarily. The above line is just a general saying that could be applied to many people (including you and me) who special education students call “regular” students or people.

Haha, that’s a good one. Arnold Kahaunaele, a 16-year-old sophomore from Hilo, is a special education student, but he is about as “regular” as they come.

He probably just doesn’t quite know it. With ease, he calls nonspecial ed students “regular.” There really isn’t anything superior about the regulars in his tone, other than they are not special ed students and they don’t have a learning disability, and, most likely, they don’t typically hang out with the special ed students.

Kahaunaele is special in more ways than one. A very bright kid, he is now a two-time participant at the state track and field meet. He ran in the “unified” relay. In that event, two special ed kids join two others from the student body of a particular school to form a team.

Kahaunaele — who also participates in Special Olympics — and his Vikings teammates placed third, but there was no disappointment on his face, just an inspiring smile and a face full of joy after having just competed with his friends in front of the huge crowd at Kamehameha on Saturday.

“I get to do stuff with my partners and have fun,” he said about participating in track and field. “I get to hang out and collaborate with the regular students. They miss their lunch to help us practice. They help us with passing the baton and other track stuff.”

He is coached by Jo Ann Nishimoto, who is also a teacher at Hilo.

Kahuanaele is also a member of JROTC.

“Hilo was the most improved unified team this year,” said Mollie Bruhl of the Special Olympics. “They did not get a medal last year, and this year they won their first heat before placing third overall.”

Asked what the meet Kamehameha meant to him, Kahaunaele was simple and clear with three responses:

“It means a lot.”



Let me tell you, this kid was the most interesting interview out of all of the athletes out there running, jumping and throwing to win. Inspirational, to say the least.

He’s winning just by running. His accomplishment in some ways is even greater than a medal.

And he’s not the only one. Kapaa, Kauai, Maui, Farrington and Kaimuki also took part in the unified race. Afterward, when the medals were given out, all of the special ed students laughed and joked together and smiled and bonded.

While they were all together, they were asked who likes to talk the most and Kahaunaele quickly raised his hand and became the spokesman. Bruhl looked on with pride while Kahaunaele was being interviewed and said to him in the middle of it, “You’re saying some really interesting things, Arnold.”

Asked if he knew who Arnold the Pig from “Green Acres” was, Kahaunaele said yes. He quickly mentioned a few other Arnolds — first Schwarzenegger and then his father, the late Arnold Kahaunaele, who passed away from cancer on Feb. 23.

“My dad is Arnold, too,” he said.

Sure, it was a special thing to watch Anthony Kahoohanohano-Davis of Baldwin break records and Kaeo Kruse of Kamehahameha cut through the wind like he was an aerodynamic unit born or manufactured to run.

Kahaunaele and the rest of the unified participants were just as special, if not more.

They have resiliency in the face of their learning disabilities … and that’s the best reason I can think of as to why they are placed into the “special” category by the Department of Education.

Talk to Arnold, though, and you’ll see he’s no regular Joe, anyway.


  1. The Rim May 10, 2016 6:07 am

    Nick- Awesome article! We sometimes lose sight of what is important in life and articles like this one just touches your heart.

  2. Manu May 10, 2016 10:14 am

    No Private School entries? Speaks volumes….Mahalo for the nice article.

  3. CriticalReader May 10, 2016 12:23 pm

    If this young man has to transfer schools for some reason, does he have to sit out a year or two from participating in track?

  4. Nick Abramo May 11, 2016 1:27 pm

    thanks The Rim!!

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