Gladiator competition has been ingrained in Robert Hesia almost from the start.
Hesia grew up with combat fighting in his bloodline. Older brother Ricky Hesia was a prominent boxer back in the day. Years as a wrestler at the high school and collegiate levels led Robert Hesia to a career as an educator and state-championship coach at Kamehameha. Now, Hesia takes on a brand-new position on the hill: Director of Campus Athletics and Human Performance.
If that sounds like a high-tech job at Apple, Gatorade or Nike, that would not be too far from the reality.
“What the opportunity is, is to build athletes from within, to leverage the system to work together more closely,” said Hesia, who guided the boys and girls wrestling teams to state crowns in 2019 and ’20. “I’m in a position that doesn’t exist anywhere else. Body, mind and soul, and learn the skills they can gain from athletics. This helps us all talk the same language and be more streamlined.”
That involves nutrition, connecting trainers and coaches with health teachers. It also entails connecting at the source of development.
“Our wrestling team has a lot of managers making sure we are organized, that our coaches and myself are organized,” Hesia said. “When we win states, they win states, too.”
To be at his best in the new job, Hesia made a decision to step down as head coach. It follows his pattern of full commitment; during years when he was a vice-principal, he abstained from coaching.
“This position is too big and the potential of it, I have nothing but respect for it. I’m an all-in kind of guy, meaning I did the job, but at the end of the day I had to decide on being mediocre at two things? Both jobs require absolute attention,” he said.
Leaving a program at its peak after four seasons as head coach was tough. Telling his wrestlers about it was borderline anguish.
“I always told my wrestlers, if there’s an opportunity for you to be a leader and step up, you do not hesitate. You do it. I put my name in the hat and I was as surprised as anyone when they hired me. I went back to my wrestlers, mouths were wide open, more of me crying hysterically for a moment,” Hesia said. “I don’t think I cried at my wedding. I love these kids and the work that we do with the coaching staff is beyond wrestling. We’re creating better people. I never thought of us as just coaches. I try not to get emotional about it now. I have an opportunity to help on a bigger scale. What we do for wrestling, we can do for everybody.”
The school has operated a COVID-19 response team for months. Hesia’s job truly is streamlined.
“Kamehameha has done a wonderful job. Glennie (Adams, athletic director) and her team have been able to create protocols that allow kids back on campus to work out, be around each other, work on the body and movement, but also the soul and the mind, and send positive messages to each other,” he said.
Energizing and building efficiency for the Warriors in the midst of a pandemic — Hesia loves the challenge.
“The sacrifices that athletes have to make, there are tons of sacrifices. COVID is another sacrifice. You might not be able to have a big birthday (party),” he said. “We have a monster buildout hopefully infused throughout the school, but specialized for kids who want to become athletes.”
He expects some adjustments and growth along the way. When he participated in this interview last week, Hesia was still testing out the engine.
“This is my fifth day. The Head of School (Dr. Taran Chun) has a vision. You can see the direction of human performance in our students’ well being. I’m just fortunate enough to be the guy who can blaze his path,” he said. “The first step is to take inventory of what we have going on, to develop a plan to grow and expand. The Kamehameha Athletic Department has positioned us as a school to be successful. I want to move this thing, but I need to understand where we’re at.”
There will always be a spot in Hesia’s heart for his student-athletes. He no longer coaches, but is a devoted fan.
“Kysen Terukina is starting at Iowa State (at 125 pounds). His only loss was to Missouri,” Hesia said of the former Kamehameha grand-slam state champion. “He’s sharing time with Corey Cabanban (former four-time state champion from Saint Louis) and Alex Mackall, who was ranked seventh (nationally). Kysen beat a guy who was a four-time champion from Nebraska Wesleyan.”
Blaysen Terukina of Menlo, a two-time Kamehameha state champion and one of Kysen’s older brothers, won the NAIA national title in the 133-pound weight class in March.
“That would show a lot of people that Hawaii wrestlers are worthy,” Hesia said.
There is no physical opponent now. Hesia’s skill at connecting people is now on stage. He credits his family and teachers at Kahuku High School for planting the seeds.
“I got nothing but love and encouragement from my friends and family, inspiring me to be the best I can be. I would love to shout out Mrs. Spinao and Mrs. Balbarona of Kahuku High School. They really showed me the capabilities of what a teacher can do to inspire people’s lives just by being themselves,” he said. “They’re good people, good human beings. They taught me more than they think they taught me.”
Top 3 shows/movies/books
1. “The Compound Effect”, Darren Hardy
“That’s a great one. It’s a self-help, showing you that if you do little things every day, you can accomplish great things.”
2. “Stillness is the Key”, Ryan Holiday
“It’s a book on stoicism. He’s referencing philosophies from back then and bringing it into modern times.”
3. “Midnight Sun”, Stephanie Meyer
“It’s the latest Twilight. It’s from the perspective of Edward Cullen, same time period of the first Twilight.”
Top 3 food/snack/drink
1. Water. “I don’t do bottled. Halawa water is great for me. That’s where I live. My wife puts a certain stone.”
2. Cara Cara oranges
“They’re seasoned. I got to turned on to it a few months ago. It’s kind of like a blood orange and a regular orange. That’s my interpretation of it. A little redder, and it’s great.”
“I try to have a decent steak. I reverse-sear, google it. A good rib eye. Medium rare. Cast iron. It depends on the way it’s cooked. It’s hard to beat a good grill, a good Weber grill. Cast iron, good crust. Butter, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Eating red meat, there’s debates. You’ve got to read the book, ‘Blue Zones.’ ”
Top 3 music artists
1. Jack Johnson – “Mud Football”
2. Mike Love – “Permanent Holiday”
3. Bob Marley – “Three Little Birds”
New life skill
“I learned the ability to utilize Microsoft Teams and Zoom.”
“To my mom (Yolanda Valentine), my wife (Shanell Hesia). Shout out to all my wrestlers that helped me be a better person. All my friends and family. Everybody that helped me, keep me accountable to be better, encouraged me. I got nothing but love and encouragement from my friends and family, inspiring me to be the best I can be.”