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Red Raider alum ‘Pono’ Tokioka returns to Kauai

PRINCEVILLE — University of Hawaii sophomore golfer Justin “Pono” Tokioka enjoyed a homecoming of sorts when he returned the The Garden Isle to participate in the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational on Monday.

The Kauai High School alumnus and two-time Kauai Interscholastic Federation individual champion said he’s thrilled to be back on his home island and wants to “cherish every moment here.”

“We got to have positive vibes for the team, focus for the two days left and never give up,” he said with his mother, Beth, translating for him. “Hopefully, I can go back to the condo, relax, maybe go to the pool and swim a little bit, and do some homework.”

The reason his mother translated for him is because he’s deaf, but that doesn’t stop him from doing his best on the golf links.

“It’s an advantage for me. It shows people they can do anything,” he said. “People are not really educated about disabilities. So I want to show everyone that people with disabilities can do anything.”

Despite the inability to hear, UH men’s golf head coach Ronn Miyashiro said he and Tokioka have never had problems communicating and is happy he’s at UH.

“It’s an obstacle he’s been dealing with his whole life. It’s something he had transitioning last year, freshman year in college … but he’s adapted very well team-wise and school-wise. He’s excelled academically last year. So it’s been good,” Miyashiro said about his golfer. “We don’t even look at it as a restriction for him. It’s just something that he deals with, something we all have adapted to, and it’s worked out perfectly fine.

“He reads lips very well. I can’t sign, but for communication for me and the rest of the team, to be completely honest, it hasn’t really been an issue,” he added. “Sometimes he has to say things a couple of times, but he gets it. It has not been an issue since he’s been here. He’s adapted well. It’s just a matter of the golf side — just getting him to perform at a high level.”

Regarding his execution on the course, Miyashiro hopes a good showing at this tournament can help boost Tokioka’s play moving forward into the season.

“He always has a tremendous amount of support when he comes here. For him, it’s good to get him playing well and get some confidence. That’s one thing he’s kind of lacking — confidence in his tournament scoring. In practice, he’s actually practicing very well. It’s just a matter of transferring that over into tournament,” he said. “He’s always had the potential to do it. It’s just a matter of putting it together and actually doing it in a tournament. Any kind of success they can have in actual competition only boosts confidence … That’s the key to success at this level.”

For the Red Raider alum, going to school on Oahu isn’t difficult because home is just a short flight away.

“The weather is the same. I love it,” Tokioka said. “It’s closer to home. If I were to go on the Mainland, it would be hard to come home for break … (Talking with coach Miyashiro) is not a problem. Sometimes, I’ll ask my teammates what they said and they’ll explain … Sometimes, I have an interpreter for team events.”

As far as the Warrior Invitational and his college career, he expects to play great, have fun and represent Kauai well.

“It gives me motivation to play well,” Tokioka said. “I have a lot of support from Kauai and I appreciate that.”

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