Luna senior wrestler Nalani Kirkman signs with Menlo

Nalani Kirkman has wrestled since sixth grade. Her career will continue at Menlo. Photo courtesy of Nalani Kirkman.

This Roughneck is just getting started.

Nalani Kirkman wrestled for the Lahaina Roughnecks long before she stepped on the Lahainaluna High School campus. As a sophomore, she reached the 102-pound state quarterfinals before losing to Kalai Tengan of Kamehameha, 3-0.

Her junior season as a Luna was a heartbreaker, losing to Kennedy Javier of Mililani, 15-11, in the preliminary round of the 102 weight class.

Kirkman went 1-1 in the consolation bracket, and began looking ahead to senior year. With a 3.5 grade-point average, an opportunity at Grand View (Iowa) opened up, but her dream college was Menlo (Calif.).

“When we went to Oahu for Officials (tournament), their coach (Joey Bareng) was at our tournament and I always wanted to go to Menlo. I have a lot of family around the area,” said Kirkman, who was born in California. “He was there and I knew he was the Menlo coach so I went up to him.”

Menlo won the national title in 2018-19. Bareng has been women’s head coach since 2013. At Moanalua, he won the Hawaii state championship at 112 pounds in 1998.

Kirkman has uncles who attended Menlo, and the school has the major she is interested in: psychology. Two months ago, Bareng, who began coaching in ’05, got in contact.

“I sent him my highlight video and I made a progression video from when I started in sixth grade to now. I sent my application and he offered me a scholarship,” said Kirkman, who signed on Oct. 5.

Nalani Kirkman and her father, Kimo, go to jiu-jitsu every day. Photo courtesy of Nalani Kirkman.

“The assistant coach (at Grand View) has been in contact with my dad since my eighth-grade year since Western Regionals in Idaho, but Menlo, I like the area, I have so much family and half the team is from Hawaii,” she added. “One of them, (former state champion) Nanea Estrella, she was my team captain.”

The plan is for her to compete at 101 pounds. Kirkman, who is 5 feet, 3 inches tall, carries 115 pounds during the off-season.

“I’m going to try everything I can to go there. I’ve been training every day, working out and lifting,” she said, noting that there are already five wrestlers at Menlo vying for the lead at 109. “I want to become a personal trainer. I’ve been interested in psychology since freshman year. I could major in kinesiology.”

Contact sports are a way of life. Jiu-jitsu is a daily activity, and that’s after a busy day.

“I have school for 15 minutes every day. I get all my assignments from 10 to 10:15 (a.m.). I work out at 7 a.m. or 11 a.m. for two hours,” she said. “I switch it up a little bit. Shoulders, arms, chest. I focus on one body part each day.”

Sometimes, when it’s not scorching hot in West Maui, Kirkman gets a run in. Sometimes, she hits the beach.

“If I don’t have a lot of homework, I go surfing. I have a short board. The beach is right down the road from my house,” she said.

From 6 to 8 p.m., it’s jiu-jitsu.

“Me and my dad (Kimo) go. He doesn’t go as much as I do,” Kirkman said. “He has baseball every Sunday.”

Gaining muscle while aiming to lose weight is a challenge.

“I’m pescatarian and also lactose intolerant, so no dairy. I eat pretty much greens and fish. I eat carbs, but I limit it. We only eat hapa (brown and white) rice in my house. That’s he only carb I max out on,” she said. “I like spinach and a whole bunch of stuff. Kale, everything.”

She’s fortunate some days when it comes to fresh fish.

“My friend, Sosefina (Riley), her brother (Dylan) fishes, so when I go to their house, it’s freshly caught and it’s so good,” Kirkman said.

Her breakfast is usually a granola bar. Dinner is sometimes before jiu-jitsu.

“Every day, my dad makes something before I go to jiu-jitsu. We’re Korean, so he makes a lot of Korean food like tteokbokki (rice cake). He makes a lot of fish plates,” she said. “Sometimes he takes the fish out and dips it in the miso salad dressing, cooks it in tin foil with vegetables in the oven.”

Nalani Kirkman looks forward to the tteokbokki made by her father, Kimo. Photo courtesy of Nalani Kirkman.

Lockdown staples

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Lucifer” (Netflix). “It’s a crime show, but Lucifer is the detective’s partner. She likes him helping because he can make people tell them the truth. He’s in love with the detective. The season ended on a cliffhanger.”

2. “Law & Order (Special Units)” (Netflix). “I like a lot of crime shows. They solve mysteries. At the DMV, this lady had the intro as her ringtone. It was so funny.”

3. “Hawaii 5-0” (CBS). “I’m very sad. That was one of my favorite shows. I could kind of sense it. All of their personal stories were kind of coming to an end.”

Top 3 food/snack/drinks

1. “My dad’s tteokbokki. I have to learn how to make it. My dad makes dinner almost every night.”

2. Watermelon.

3. Green burrito, Alive & Well restaurant, Kahului. “There’s a vegan restaurant and they have this green burrito and it’s super good. I just had it this morning. There’s sweet potato, spinach, kale and cashew butter, onions, bell pepper. It’s a grilled burrito.”

Top 3 music artists

1. Summer Walker. “Come Thru.”

2. Usher. “Don’t Waste My Time.”

3. Beyonce. “Love on Top.”

New life skill

Kirkman: “I actually got my (driver’s) license this morning. I did the written part when I got my permit. I’m pretty sure I only got one wrong.”

Shout outs

Kirkman: “(Lahainaluna assistant) coach Conrad (Bolor). He’s been there since I was in eighth grade, training me non-stop. He likes to say, ’Stop sandbagging’ to everybody. Or, ‘Don’t sandbag.’ When we go to Idaho for tournaments, and we went to an arcade and ate dinner there, everyone got a burger. Then he said, ‘You guys can’t play the games until you eat the whole plate. Don’t sandbag.’ It was a big burger, too. And shout out to my dad and my stepmom (Steffani).”


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