Working through the pandemic

  • Contributed by David Bieker

    Kauai Habitat for Humanity board president Leona Sa McDermott, center, receives a certificate from the Habitat’s volunteer manager Caitlin Pounds, right, at a volunteer appreciation breakfast Friday morning at Unko’s Kitchen in Hanapepe. Another volunteer, Sandy Ambrose, is at left.

  • Leona Sa McDermott/Contributed photo

    Chauncy Cummings, Kauai Special Olympics athlete who participated in the national games, is interviewed by a representative of the Tahiti law enforcement team as Special Olympics Kauai volunteer Leona Sa McDermott listens Saturday.

  • Courtesy of Leona Sa McDermott

    Chad Okino waits to bag groceries at the Safeway Store in the Hokulei Village Shopping Center in Puhi.

  • Courtesy of Leona Sa McDermott

    Kaimana McDermott engages in a virtual workout at home with the Special Olympics Hawai‘i staff on O‘ahu.

  • Courtesy of Leona Sa McDermott

    Ellane Kato beams at her bagging station at the Safeway Store in the Hokulei Village Shopping Center in Puhi.

  • Courtesy of Leona Sa McDermott

    Frankie Green pulls in carts at the Safeway Store in the Kaua‘i Village Shopping Center in Waipouli.

  • Courtesy of Leona Sa McDermott

    Makani Kapua sanitizes shopping carts at the Safeway Store in the Hokulei Village Shopping Center in Puhi.

When are we gonna go back?

The Special Olympics Kaua‘i athletes want to know, said Leona Sa McDermott, a Special Olympics coach.

That may be partially answered by emergency rule 11 by Mayor Derek Kawakami, which allows for organized, outdoor team sports from June 1 provided that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and state Department of Health safe practices can be implemented and followed at all times.

“This would have been the week to travel to O‘ahu for the summer games 2020, which was scheduled for May 24 through 26,” Sa McDermott said. “Our Special Olympic Kaua‘i athletes — Ellane Kato, Frankie Green, Makani Kapua, Chad Okino, Ken Tazaki and James McCool — and coaches had to adjust to what is the new normal due to COVID-19.”

The summer games were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, breaking a tradition since 1968 where approximately 700 Special Olympic athletes, including those from Kaua‘i, spend three days competing in track and field, swimming, powerlifting, and forms of softball including unified, coach pitch, T-ball and individual skills.

“Instead, the Kaua‘i SO athletes are essential workers, and have been working through this pandemic,” McDermott said. “Our Special Olympics Hawai‘i leaders on O‘ahu launched virtual events and activities statewide to keep them engaged.”

Most of the Special Olympics Kaua‘i athletes are doing essential work at the Safeway stores, Ellane Kato also volunteering on the prayer team — “We’re small but powerful,” she says — during the Police, Pastors &Platters free breakfast (with music and prayer) giveaway at Puakea Golf Course in Lihu‘e that was started to provide weekend meals to supplement the free, grab-and-go meals program for youth presented by the state Department of Education.

“We want to take this time to recognize, honor and show our appreciation to all of them for their courage and dedication,” McDermott said. “Their unconditional love for the job they do daily is priceless. As coaches, when we see them collecting carts, sanitizing them, bagging our groceries with their masks on, (it) just reminds us of how much they value their perseverance in life despite the challenges they are faced with every day.”

McDermott said her son Kaimana has been on unemployment since March 18 when the department store he works in closed.

“Kaimana had a hard time coping with what was happening,” the mother-coach said. “At one point, he refused to walk out of the house. It took time to break it in enough for him to step outside, explaining to him that it’s OK to walk around the yard and take in some fresh air outside. His interpretation of COVID-19 had him thinking it was flying around, and if he breathes it in, he’s going get sick, which technically, is kinda right.”

Mcdermott said in addition to caring for Kaimana, she cares for her husband.

“The amount of stress I had was not limited to dealing with Kaimana, but my husband because he has the weakest immune system from all the chemo and radiation he’s endured over the years,” she said.

“I had to make sure he was isolated and no one comes near him because if he were to catch anything, his entire immune system would shut down. I was the only one to leave the house to get essential food and medical supplies. It was a risk, but those were essentials we needed,” she said.

“I finally got Kaimana to understand what was happening, what this virus is, and how a person gets it,” she said. “He realized he wasn’t going to be working for a while because of people in close contact with each other. Then came the ‘What about Special Olympics? We not going O‘ahu? How come? Why?’”

McDermott said she experiences the same with the other Special Olympic athletes on the job during her outings for essential supplies.

“With a flash of the shaka you can hear them through their masks: ‘When is practice starting up again? When are we gonna go back?’” she said. “I miss everyone. They will not stop at anything. You know, when they’re not thinking of their current condition, they just like know when practice going start.”

Kaimana was called back to work on May 22.

“The store’s management team brought him in to just get acclimated with the new distancing guidelines for store patrons to follow,” McDermott said.

“It took time for him to digest. He now has to do temperature checks before he starts his shift, entering the doors with a mask on, and being asked if he has flu-like symptoms, or if he was in contact with an individual that had been infected with COVID-19. It is a lot for him to take in daily, new routines to adjust to and, so far, he’s been doing OK. It’s what we call ‘the new norm.’”

“For myself, it’s still a daily repeat that we won’t be going this year,” she said.

“We need to make sure everything is safe and ready for us to travel again. And I tell you, Kaimana engaged with all the virtual activities and exercises that our O‘ahu office put out for the athletes, and he was so happy to just see his teammates across the state. That motivated him to wake up every day. That is a huge relief.”


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