Gymfest: The First Last Meet for Senior Paige Yasui-Durlacher
Lejardin is a large campus built on top of a twisting and winding road. Family members congregate outside of the gym, awaiting the first meet of the competition season for Kokokahi Gymnastics. Girls ranging in age from five to fifteen work concessions, constantly exchanging homemade goods for cash, and the aroma of kalua pork and sweets waft in the air. Little girls are excitedly practicing cartwheels and beginners tumbling while their older sisters, friends, and teammates are warming up inside the gym. Parents proudly represent the colors of their respective teams and are chatting with the other team parents. I wait outside with some of the other PBA seniors, this being the first competition Paige Yasui-Durlacher has invited us all to witness. We all carry leis and bouquets and are filled with pride for her.
At around 6:30, the sun has already begun setting and we stroll inside the gymnasium to look for seats. The bleachers are nearly packed, and it proves difficult to find a spot. Some of us opt to sit on the stairs. We scan the floor searching for Paige in her bright red leotard. She had told us to be as inconspicuous as possible, with a fear that we would make her nervous. However, we fail miserably. We are a large group in the very front, so close we almost touch the mats. I carry a homemade sign with me and none of us can stop smiling and pointing.
It is seven p.m. when loud pop music stuns our ears and the announcer introduces himself. He is young, couldn’t be older than twenty-five and has a booming voice that seeps through a loud microphone. He informs the crowd that this is the forty-first annual Kokokahi Gym Fest and he rattles off the competing teams. Groups from as far as Australia have traveled to Kailua for this friendly meet. Kokokahi is the last team to be introduced and the PBA students are filled to the brim with enthusiasm. Paige and her other Level 10 teammates lift their team sign and toss up shakas with grand smiles. In just a few moments the actual competition will start.
Kokokahi begins on the floor. Tumbling passes are spotted and the girls are all gracefully twirling, as if they are weightless. Paige is the first to dance, the gems on her leotard glisten under all of the harsh lights. She poses and the crowd goes silent. The PBA students clench in excitement, unable to let out a breath before the music starts. Twenty One Pilots finally echoes on the overhead, and Paige moves as if no one is watching.
“Look! She’s so cute!” is repeated amongst the girls, not used to seeing her in such a girly manner. Her wrists flick and her hips jive with the beat. It is truly as if we are watching an entirely different person. Knowing floor is Paige’s least favorite event, I am surprised to see the ease in which she moves. When she shimmies over to the corner of the mat we know we are going to be blown away by her passes. Although none of us quite know exactly what she is doing, we see her land on her feet and we know that is good enough. We attempt to hold in our cheers, however, in fear of distracting her from what she does best. By the end of her song and with her final pose, we all bellow and whoop.
“She’s so good!” senior Reina Chinen, whispers to herself. It is astonishing how easy she makes her sport look, and she tip-toes off the floor, looking as if she is breathing without trouble. She manages to maintain her professional character as she continues on with her events without sparing a single smile or giggle in our direction. After Paige’s first performance we all sit on the edge of our seats, comparing the scores of the other girls with our peer. We eventually lose count as over a dozen other girls give equally impressive routines. We don’t know how each move and trick compares to another, we are all just wide-eyed at every girl’s ability to stay in the air for so long. “It’s literally as if she’s light as air . . .” comments Chika Matsumoto.
From floor, Paige goes to vault, to bars, and then finishes on beam. We patiently wait for all teams to finish their events and anticipate the awards ceremony. The trophies are gorgeous, shined shells of different sizes correlating with the scoring. Girls of different levels are called up, and Paige’s division -- college level, might I add -- is announced last. With each name called, a gymnast steps forward and takes her spot on the podium. They are awarded with a medal and their trophies, and once all the girls take their places, salutes rise and the competition is officially over. Families and friends surround their athletes and within minutes leis are up to their ears and the girls have taken enough pictures to probably last a lifetime. Paige seems to be the most decorated gymnast, seeing as she has the largest group of supporters to offer their thanks and congratulations.