The former Man of War is a man of peace. Which means not much has changed for Joe Onosai since he appeared on MidWeek’s cover in 1999. Now the athletic director, football coach and throwing coach for track and field at Word of Life Academy, the former UH standout and strong man competitor has moved on to something even more challenging than hoisting tractor tires: helping guide young men and women toward productive lives.
“The great thing is just seeing how we are helping create a culture of success,” says Onosai. “I think the kids believe in what we are teaching them, and seeing them develop is wonderful.”
As a pastor at the church for eight years, Onosai feels his story — growing up in Kuhio Park Terrace, playing football — helps him better relate to the kids in his outreach work.
“All the things I have gone through, my experiences, playing at UH, seem to have been good preparation for what I am doing today,” he says about his work with kids in the church and those outside who, like him, come from challenging environments. “I think after 40 years of living I have something to offer.”
Athletic success seems to be the norm around the Onosai home. Daughter Talia will be starting her second year on the volleyball team at Menlo College near San Francisco, while younger sister Careena will be doing the same for UH.
“She’s always wanted to play for the Wahine, and Coach Shoji is allowing her to do that. We’re pretty happy about that,” he says. Careena also won the gold in the discus and shot put at the recent prep state championships.
Though his success on the strong man tour brought him international attention, Onosai has no desire these days to show off his power.
“I think what I enjoyed the most was competing and meeting guys from all over the world,” he says. “It was good finding out that people from all over are just like you. I’ve been able to maintain lifelong relationships with some of these guys.”
But at the end of the day, it’s not the weight lifted that matters to Onosai, it’s the hopes raised that matter most.
“I think, for us, we are always teaching them about the spiritual aspect of life. We have chapel every week. But we want to make sure they are taking care of their bodies as well. You can’t just walk into a competition and do well. We’re trying to teach them how to be lifelong learners, and I think we are doing a good job teaching that.”
— Steve Murray
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