Despite limitations due to cerebral palsy, MPA’s Jerone Samari is

Up to the challenge

Maui Preparatory Academy’s Jerone Samari golfs one-handed during a match earlier this month. Samari, who was born with cerebral palsy, also runs cross country and swims for Na Pueo while maintaining a 4.11 grade-point average and leading several academic clubs. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAPALUA — Jerone Samari is a three-sport athlete for Maui Preparatory Academy.

His 5-foot-7, 158-pound frame and ever-present wide smile hardly portray the giant persona he is for the tiny private school in Napili.

Although he doesn’t see himself as anything out of the ordinary, the MPA ohana — from the principal to coaches to teammates and classmates — view Samari with nothing but respect.

The 15-year-old sophomore was born with cerebral palsy, an affliction that severely limits the use of the left side of his body. It has not stopped him from running cross county, swimming at an honorable mention all-star level and playing golf as Na Pueo’s fifth man, one-armed.

“What it basically does is limits the motor function in my left arm and leg,” Samari said inside the Kapalua Golf Academy building on Wednesday. “I’ve shown symptoms most of my life.”

He will tee off in the first round of the Maui Interscholastic League individual tournament Saturday at Waiehu Municipal Golf Course.

Samari carries a grade-point average of 4.11 and leads academic clubs including Japan Wizards, Science Olympiad, robotics, Rotary Interact Club and It’s Academic Hawaii.

His college wish list includes Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, Magill and Cal Tech. He plans on studying aerospace engineering.

Samari’s first memory of sports is soccer at the age of 6. He moved to Maui from Canada two years later.

He started playing golf with the Lahaina Junior program three years ago, but did not get serious about the sport until his freshman season with MPA.

First-year MPA coach Chris Armanini changed Samari’s swing from a two-armed approach with heavy adult clubs to swinging with just his right arm and lighter clubs.

“There’s no one right way to swing a golf club,” said Armanini, a PGA professional who works at the Kapalua Golf Academy and is certified by the Titleist Performance Institute. “The only thing that really matters is impact.”

The new approach was implemented as the MIL season began in February.

“Once we got the new clubs in his hand, the lighter, shorter clubs, he really took off,” Armanini said. “Last year he was shooting around 145, 150 for 18 holes … the first (nine-hole) round out there he dropped down to a 58.”

Samari now routinely hits his drives 180 yards or farther. He fired a 57 on the front nine of the Kapalua Bay Course on Saturday, the fifth score for Na Pueo in a win over King Kekaulike that nailed down second place in the final team standings.

“It was pretty awesome,” Samari said. “I had always experimented with different things like going left-handed and clubs and things like that, but it was an amazing moment when we kind of switched (to the one-arm approach).”

In swimming, Samari asked coach Michael “Tex” Ritter what the toughest event was and then signed up for the 500-yard freestyle — 20 laps of a 25-yard pool.

“I really like long-distance events, it provides more of a challenge,” Samari said. “I like the challenge and what I find really interesting is how your body actually works throughout those long-distance events — gave it a go one of those times and fell in love with it.”

Swimming has helped with the range of motion and strength on the left side of Samari’s body, something golf and stretching for both sports also provides.

“We discovered how it became such a positive outlet for him to help his disability,” Ritter said. “Just seeing him over his freshman and sophomore year, there’s been a huge difference in his ability and his understanding of the water and utilizing the skills that he has. He wants to be challenged.”

Samari has a goal of competing in the Xterra World Championship off-road triathlon — he has watched the professionals ride their mountain bikes through the paths near the MPA campus for a couple years now.

MPA Principal Ryan Kirkham completed the Xterra in 2016. He works out with Samari often in the pool and routinely gets beat by the youngster.

“Jerone definitely is an inspiration to students in our high school, middle school and lower school, and to faculty, for that matter,” Kirkham said. “He excels in everything he does, whether it be in academics, or extra-curricular clubs, or athletics. He’s a model, stand-up, all-around student.”

Kirkham pointed to the school’s sportsmanship award that Samari won as a freshman.

“He’s an absolute model of perseverance for anyone who ever sees him outside in some athletic venue,” Kirkham said. “We all learned a long time ago that if Jerone sets his mind to something, it’s going to get done. He doesn’t see himself having limitations, just opportunities.

“He might not get the medals in cross country or swimming or golf — he may not be one of the top performers necessarily, but he is the guy you want on your team because he’s just the consummate teammate.”

Two-time state high school champion Kysha Altura, an MPA senior headed to Fordham University on a swimming scholarship, said Samari is “the heart of our practice, he’s the heart of our team. He’s so funny and he always brings us up.”

In the last two years, Samari has completed eight triathlons.

“I actually only learned to ride a bike when I was 12,” Samari said. “After that I wanted to go straight into triathlons. The biking is what I love because it allowed me to cross a barrier that I couldn’t until I was 12.”

Breakthroughs keep on coming for the young man who “walked in circles” when he first took steps “because my right leg worked and my left leg didn’t.”

Being a part of the MPA teams may be the best part of his high school experience.

“I’m truly, truly humbled, and I can’t believe I get the opportunity every day,” he said.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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