Alumni Ready for Tokyo Olympics

Punahou has had a long, storied presence at the Olympics, with alumni competing on the world’s largest athletic stage throughout its history. Legendary swimmer Warren Kealoha ’25 even represented the United States while still a student, taking home his first gold medal in 1920 – at just 16 – and then doing it again four years later at the Paris Olympics.

This summer, Punahou alumni once again will compete at the Games, this time in Tokyo. Three Punahou graduates – Carissa Moore ’10 (surfing), Erik Shoji ’08 (volleyball) and Shelby Baron ’12 (wheelchair tennis) are in Toyko ready to represent the United States and compete in their respective sports. Taylor Crabb ’10 had also made the Team USA beach volleyball team, but unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19 while in Tokyo and won’t be competing. “After taking every precaution, getting vaccinated and following protocols, I have tested positive for COVID-19. I’m symptom-free, thankfully, but deeply disappointed to not be able to join Jake (Gibb) on the sand and compete as a member of Team USA,” Crabb said in a statement shared on social media. “I’ve faced adversity before, and I will face it again, but it doesn’t take the sting out of the situation.”

Erik Shoji ’08

Tokyo will be Erik Shoji’s ’08 second Olympic Games. Five years ago, when the Games were in Rio de Janeiro, the USA men’s volleyball team took home the bronze. This time, they have a good chance to strike gold, with Shoji as one of the team standouts.

The former Stanford All-American is part of a well-known volleyball family in the Islands. His father, Dave, coached the women’s volleyball team at the University of Hawai‘i from 1975 to 2017, leading them to four national titles. His brother, Kawika, also plays indoor volleyball for Team USA.

We caught up with Erik in Tokyo, as he was with his teammates preparing for the Games.

“We are currently in the Olympic village gearing up for the games to start,” he said. “We have been working hard with hopes of winning a gold medal.”

Erik had qualified for last year’s Olympics, which were postponed to this summer because of COVID-19. “When the pandemic hit, I think we were all grateful that the games got postponed instead of canceled,” he said. “COVID has been hard on so many people, and I’m thankful for the work and preparations Japan has done.”

After the postponement, Erik returned to Hawai‘i for the summer. “It was longest period I had been home since high school, so it was nice to get some good quality family time. I was able to train in a safe environment with my brother, Micah Christenson (also an Olympic vollyeball player) and a couple other guys. We worked really hard together to stay in shape and work on our individual games. It feels great to be able to represent the USA and Hawai‘i. In such a tough time I hope that our team shows what’s great about our country and we work as hard as possible to win. Let’s go USA!”

Carissa Moore ’10

Carissa Moore ‘10 has been surfing professionally for more a decade, racking up a long list of accomplishments. In 2014, she was inducted into the prestigious Surfers’ Hall of Fame. Now, she’s taking her talents to the Olympics for the debut of the sport in the Games.

On Dec. 1, 2019, she became the first American woman to qualify for surfing in the Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed. Less than 24 hours later, she won her fourth world surfing title. The back-to-back achievements were celebrated a short time later in a special gathering for Moore under the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki, the same shoreline where Moore’s father took her out for her very first surfing lesson. (She was 5, she’d later recall. And she was forever hooked.)

Draped in lei, a beaming Moore told the Waikiki crowd that her win wasn’t just about her, but about everyone who’d ever supported her or cheered her on. “I’m proud to represent the USA, but most of all Hawai‘i,” she said. “I’m so excited to go to the Olympics and share the spirit of aloha that Duke shared.”

Speaking to the Bulletin last year, Moore says she’s preparing for the Games as she would any other big competition. In an average week, she trains in the water just about every day and trains on land about every other day.

She’s also making time for her other passion – mentoring young people. Through her Moore Aloha nonprofit, Moore has held surfing camps for girls in Hawai‘i and in beach communities internationally. Applicants are asked to write a short essay asking how they give back and “live aloha.” She said her central message to those she mentors – and those who look up to her – is a simple one: “You can never go wrong approaching a situation with kindness and pure intentions.” Moore also inspired Punahou’s youth as the 2017 Spirit and Service Speaker.

And her advice for young girls hoping to pursue a future in pro surfing? “Live your dreams, and never give up.”

Shelby Baron ’12

Wheelchair tennis standout Shelby Baron ’12 will be competing in Tokyo in her second Paralympic Games. After reaching the round of 16 in singles and the doubles quarterfinals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, she’s eager for another opportunity to compete among the world’s top players in the sport.

Last year, before the 2020 Olympics were postponed, we contacted Baron, who told us about her first Paralympic experience. “It was amazing,” she said. “I was awarded a wildcard to complete a doubles team. I was truly honored to compete for the U.S. on the biggest sporting stage of the world. I decided to commit the next four years towards training so that I could qualify on my own. Competing in Tokyo would mean that I was able to set my mind on a goal and achieve it. All the money I spent, hours I trained, and sacrifices I made for the past four years would be worth it.”

Born with spina bifida, she used crutches as a young child, and routinely sat out of PE. But while in the third grade at Noelani Elementary School, an adaptive PE specialist encouraged her to participate via a wheelchair. She began playing wheelchair basketball, then took up wheelchair tennis. While tennis wasn’t an easy sport to master, her skills developed over time, and she ended up becoming the first recipient of a wheelchair tennis scholarship at the University of Alabama, where she earned a degree in speech pathology.

“I was nine years old when I first started playing tennis,” Baron said. “It was the first sport that I played, and I fell in love immediately because of the challenge it brought. I was also able to play this sport with my family, which brought us closer together. Throughout the years as I improved, my goals got bigger and the competition grew steeper. As I transitioned to high school, competing and balancing school work became more grueling. With the support of my family, friends, and teachers, I remained motivated and made it to the collegiate level. My teammates and coaches continued to support me and help me grow as a person and tennis player. When I got to the biggest stage of my life, I knew I was meant to be there.”

Baron said she was devastated when she first received word that the Paralympics would be delayed a year. “All I could think about was how much time, effort, and money I put into my training and competitions the past several years,” she said. To cope, she turned to a sports psychologist who has helped her with the change of routine as well as helped her to become a better player on court.

Training this year was definitely different than last year due to the disruptions of the pandemic. “We were told that playing tennis was potentially dangerous for our health so my coach and I didn’t step onto a tennis court for almost two months,” she said. “I still wanted to maintain some sort of level of training so I took to garage and driveway workouts. I went on daily pushes outside to keep my mind and body active.”

Now, with the Paralympics coming up in August, Baron is growing more excited every day to compete and is grateful for the opportunity. “My hope is that I will enjoy the moment and play my hardest with no regrets,” she said.

Despite everything that’s been going on in the world, including the pandemic, she is proud to represent her country. “Tennis has given me countless opportunities in my life and I am so excited to be able to compete at the highest level of competition for my sport on behalf of Team USA,” she said.

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