Members of the BJ Penn Athletics training club are, from left, kneeling, Bethany Schoen, Ealelo Schoen, Solana Murry, Daylan Torres, CJ Hao, Jake Deluz; second row, Aukai Chuhing, Dashney Murry, Daven Masanda, Luke Deluz, Michael Perez White, Evan Kiley, Ethan Meyer, Taleia Laftu, Jacob Luna, John Torres; back row, coach Hillary Luna, coach Isaiah Kanakanui, Allie Lopez, Lahi Kanakanui and Ashlee Lopez.
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hillary Luna, a soon-to-be Hilo High senior, is more than just the inaugural Miss Teen Lehua Hawaii. She’s also a coach for the BJ Penn athletics training alliance, adding polish and balance to her understudies.
In its second year, the training alliance works out five times a week for 90 minutes at BJ Penn’s Fitness and Training Center. There are 15 youngsters in the summer program, ranging in ages from 5 to 17 years old.
Luna, her dad Layne Luna and 2011 Hilo graduate Isaiah Kanakanui serve as coaches, teaching wrestling, judo and jiujitsu as well as the intangibles each sports carries such as discipline, dedication, and the concept of connecting hard work and reward.
But Hillary Luna, who put the brakes on judo and wrestling for her junior year, brings something new to the table. As a two-time jiujitsu undefeated champion, she’s tough and good-looking, too. She’s also a role model for the girls in her club.
“I was ecstatic and really happy winning Miss Teen Lehua Hawaii. It’s a different type of accomplishment, and I have a voice to help out,” said Luna, whose calendar is filled with community service work. “I’ve been teaching the girls how to model. We just did a bridal show. It gives them a lot more balance. I believe every girl can be feminine and really tough, too.
“It really helps their confidence and self-image for public speaking or if they’re at a tourney. We’re working with the little kids to teach them discipline and how to present yourself well, and how to become a champion.”
Kanakanui could see a big change in his sister, Lahi, an upcoming Hilo junior, who took fifth in the 139-pound class at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state judo tournament in May.
“She has a lot more confidence with her inner and outer beauty,” he said. “She has better poise to hold herself as a woman. She’s not just a wrestler. It gives her balance.”
Luna, Kanakanui, and Keaau High sisters Allie and Ashlee Lopez were featured in RJ Kaneao’s music video. There is also a scheduled modeling demonstration and judo and wrestling exhibition at Prince Kuhio Plaza on July 28.
Last season as a freshman, Ashlee Lopez took third in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation wrestling championships. She got disqualified for an aggressive move at the state tournament.
Layne Luna, who’s a video teacher at Keaau High, has high hopes for Lopez, who competed in the 130-pound class.
“She’s stronger and faster,” he said. “I think she has a chance to be Keaau’s first state wrestling champion. She’s really motivated, trains and works hard and has a good attitude. I’m glad that they’re modeling. It’s good for their self-image. Before they never thought they were pretty.
“Lahi is a good athlete, but she never had the concept that she could be one of the best models. I’m proud what they did and they give back. They all volunteer their time to teach the little kids.”
The modeling stuff happens outside the gym. There’s little glamour working up a good sweat during the summer. It’s all about hard work at the alliance, a point that hits home under the watchful eye of Isaiah Kanakanui.
“I want to teach the kids discipline, self-respect and most of all confidence,” he said. “It opens opportunities for all of them to get a scholarship in sports.
“We don’t have any clinics on the Big Island. Our kids start in judo or wrestling in high school. On Oahu, they get them at a younger age and it’s year-round. Our season is only two months.”
Kanakanui has been working on his jiujitsu skills at the gym, training with brothers BJ and JD Penn. He’s looking to enter jiujitsu tourneys and see where that road takes him. He’s not only a teacher, but a student as well.
“The one thing BJ taught me is to never give up,” he said. “If you start young, be committed and the end product will eventually be good.”
The younger Lopez, the wrestler with the promising future, is already starting to connect the relationship between hard work and reward.
“The training has helped my knowledge and technique,” she said. “It’s helped me become stronger. I want to take the BIIF championship and place in states. I also want to go to college on a scholarship.”
Meanwhile, it’s Lahi Kanakanui’s second year in the summer program. She must pay heed to her older brother’s message because she was working hard on Thursday. Then she helped train the youngsters.
Asked the best part of spending her summer days in a gym, she had an answer that sums up the spirit at BJ Penn’s training alliance.
“It’s meeting new people and not only helping myself, but helping others,” she said.