LIHUE — Not a sound came from the 500 students gathered inside Kauai High School gymnasium Friday morning when Kyle Quilausing walked in with shackles around his ankles and wrists.
His feet were bare. Tattoos covered his body. And chains dragged between his feet across the gym floor.
“You think it’s funny?” he asked, an angry look on his face.
It was a dose of reality — a powerful reminder that one bad choice can change a person’s life forever. In Quilausing’s case, that choice was smoking methamphetamine.
As a younger man, Quilausing was a star athlete. All he cared about was sports — surfing, golf, you name it. He didn’t drink, never did drugs. After years of saying “no,” however, Quilausing fell to mounting peer pressure and made a choice that changed his life forever.
“One day, all the peer pressure came and I smoked ice,” he said. “I smoked ice, I got addicted and I became one crystal meth user. I did bad things, which landed me in prison. For 10 years, I was in prison.”
Fourteen months ago, at age 39, he got out. And since then he has decided to dedicate his life to making sure others don’t follow his path. He says that if he can prevent one person from turning to drugs, the effort is worth it.
If his message wasn’t clear by the shackles, it was after a picture. He showed the students a poster-sized image of what he used to look like, before he got clean.
“All it takes is one time,” he told the students. “If you guys smoke drugs after seeing this, you guys stupid. This is the result right here.”
This month, Quilausing is on Kauai with Daryl “Sammy” Sampaga and the nonprofit Operation Sammy Muscular Dystrophy. And Quilausing’s message is just one of several that Sampaga’s team is taking to schools and churches around the island over the next two weeks.
Sampaga, a 42-year-old Hilo resident, suffers from muscular dystrophy. Last year, he traversed the Big Island on foot to raise awareness about the disease as well as funds to purchase a pair of canoes so children with disabilities could experience the joy of paddling — one of his passions.
On Jan. 17, Sampaga kicked off a second trek, this time around Kauai and dubbed “Operation Paddle and Walk for Dreams — Kauai Island 2015.” He started with a 32-mile paddle along the Na Pali Coast, beginning at Kee Beach. Since then, he’s been slowly making his way by foot back toward the North Shore, spreading his message of hope and against bullying along the way.
On Friday, Sampaga was at Kauai High School, where he spoke in front of the freshman and sophomore classes.
Vice Principal Paul Crowe applauded the OSMD team and said the event was well received.
“I thought it was very inspiring,” he said. “It was a great message for the students.”
For years, Sampaga was ashamed of his disability. He wore only pants so that people couldn’t see his legs. And he was bullied.
Today, bullying is even worse than when Sampaga was young, with children taking to Facebook and Instagram to pick on one another. He says it’s got to stop.
“We live on an island,” he said. “We all got to love each other.”
One Kauai High School student who hopes to put an end to bullying at her school is freshman Julia Makepa. She is in the process of starting the anti-bullying club called #nobullying. At the beginning of the year, she was bullied by some other students.
“It was really tough for me,” she said.
Makepa said Friday’s presentation was both amazing and a scary reminder about the consequences of actions. Above all, she took away the importance of staying away from negativity and that anything can happen if a person sets their mind to it.
“His message was really strong,” she said of Sampaga. “It really reached out to people, especially me.”
Following the presentation, Sampaga and the OSMD team drove back to Kalaheo, where they picked up where they left off the day before in their walk around the island. They shoot for 10 miles per day; however, Sampaga is battling a sore left leg.
Asked if he felt he would be able to finish, Sampaga said, “Never give up.”
One week into his journey, Sampaga said Kauai has accepted him with open arms. His plan was to camp in tents along the way. Instead, people have opened up their homes.
“We never camped once,” Sampaga said. “The tent, we set up, put down.”
“We never buy food yet since we came,” Quilausing added.
Sampaga’s last “walking day” is scheduled for Feb. 7, when he will reach Kee Beach. A paina celebration will follow at Black Pot Beach Park with live entertainment and food, according to his Facebook page.
The response from students since he started the journey has been unreal, Sampaga said.
“From the time I got here, by the third day, I got 300 kids (follow) me on Instagram,” he said.
Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.