Size doesn’t matter when you got a lot of gumption
It had been less than 24-hours since we had arrived in Samoa from Salt Lake City. As siblings we stood outside our new home in Lotopa on the outskirts of Apia, the capital city of what is now the Independent Nation of Samoa. At the time it was known as Western Samoa and it scared us – bad! This was the first time we had ever been outside of our comfort zone and though we were pretty good at adapting to new places, this one was absolutely foreign to us.
As we sat outside in the rising humidity of a Samoan morning listening to the sounds of our mom cooking breakfast and avoiding our dad who had scheduled a long day of unloading and moving things from the large container that contained all of our earthly possessions into our new home, we wondered what life was going to be like in our island home.
‘Guys, this stuff isn’t going to move on its own. Let’s get going we’re wasting time.’ Dad was never one to waste a moment in deep thought or retrospection. Grumbling at the huge chore in front of us we started unloading. The minutes ticked by slowly. It was agonizing work and the heat and humidity was not helping. I was ready to take a trip to one of the beautiful beaches that my parents had told us about along the miles of Samoan coastline but dad had other ideas.
As the morning hours turned into noon we were all exhausted when mom called a break to serve lunch. We sat in shade of a large tamarind tree, a calm tropical breeze cooling our backs. Non of us had the will or the energy to talk so we ate our sandwiches in silence enjoying the sound of the wind whistling through the trees when behind us a voice called out, ‘malo sole!’ (Greetings dude)
Startled we all turned to see two Samoan boys with large smiles looking down at us. We exchanged greetings and invited them to join us for a snack as was customary in the islands. We had been learning about basic Samoan etiquette back in Salt Lake City before our eventual move to Samoa and failing to offer a seat and a meal to anyone, including strangers was considered rude and embarrassing.
They declined our food, but they seemed very willing to help us move our stuff which made them our instant friends. They seemed small, agile but very muscular. They were beyond nice (a trait that we would find prevalent amongst our people) and from that day forward, they could always be called upon to help with tasks around the house or just for a friendly game of basketball.
“If you guys ever have any troubles, you come find me,” the stockier of the two said as they were leaving that evening, half of the crate looming like a cavern on our car port.
“Yeah, if any kids give you trouble, tell them Kap is your friend.”
We had a good laugh at that because Kapeneta (who went by the nickname Kap), because even now Kap is not a large man and he certainly wasn’t a giant back then either. But a week later when we were enrolled in school I saw Kap in the hallway with a group of friends and it became very obvious to me by the way he held himself and by his swagger that Kap was in fact the leader of the pack. He and his brother Palemia (Pal to his friends) were well known, natural leaders who had the respect and love of their peers and all who knew them. even though they were undersized, what they lacked in size they made up for in spunk and spirit. Kap became a leader on the rugby field and Pal became Student Body President.
Today, Kap is the very successful front man and fire knife dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii and is renowned throughout the world for his wit, humor and strength. Pal has competed as a bodybuilder and trainer in the Salt Lake valley.
There are many stories like these of friends whom many underestimated because of their size. As the father of five undersized boys, no one knows their fight, determination and spirit like I do. No matter how much I wish that coaches would look past their diminutive size when they participate in sports, they may never live that down unless they suddenly sprout a foot in the next month or two. Like my friends Kap and Pal, they will always have something to prove because like it or not, when it comes to sports, unless you’re a horse jockey or a mountain climber or Ladanian Tomlinson, size means everything.
I hardly know how they feel because I’ve always been a decent height and weight so I was rarely in a position to fight for a spot on the team simply because of genetics and a very disproportionate amount of talent. My sons on the other hand, will have to fight for every opportunity, squash all preconceived notions and misconceptions about their size.
Since he was a kid, No. 1 has had to tackle kids twice his size to prove that he has the heart to face fears that bigger kids will never have to face. Every one of his brothers since has had to do the same thing. It’s a Matua ritual. Line up the biggest, baddest kid on the field and let him run full speed at my son. Sometimes they get run over. Sometimes they got bowled over. But they always got up. Slowly sometimes, but they still got up.
They are my hero’s. Not just because they are my sons and they are so much better at life than I am, but because they set aside their fears, muster up their courage and fight with every ounce of strength that they have in their small, lean bodies. It’s something I would still have trouble doing today. Like Kap and Pal, I’m happy to say that my sons will have the courage and faith in themselves to conquer the world no matter what the world says they can and cannot do.