Friday, April 28, 2000
thanks to Waipahu
The Olympic boxer went homeBy Pat Bigold
to express his appreciation for
all the support he's got
EVER since he qualified for the Olympic boxing team in Mexico last week, Brian Viloria has been walking around with a lump in his throat.
There was his emotional return to Honolulu International Airport Sunday, and the embrace of his parents, Ben and Rosemarie.
There was the immediate deluge of local media requests for chunks of his free time.
There were the countless hugs and kisses from neighbors, relatives and people who just wanted to be able to say they met the 19-year-old Viloria before he left for the Olympics in Sydney.
"People here, I love them to death," said Viloria, Hawaii's first Olympic fighter in 44 years, yesterday. "Even ones you just met, you bond with right away."
Viloria attended the First Communion of his younger sister, Roxanne, on Monday at St. Joseph's Church in Waipahu. Near the end of the Mass, Rev. Joven Junio stunned Viloria by calling him to the altar. He conferred a blessing upon his Olympic quest.
"May God bless you with every heavenly benediction," said Junio. "May He guide you on safe and prosperous paths."
When the priest finished, the congregation erupted.
"It gave me goosebumps to kneel before God and the whole community like that," said Viloria, a devout church-goer.
"He's one of our kids," said Junio, who recalls the days when the world amateur light flyweight champ worked for the Catholic youth ministry.
Viloria was to fly to Connecticut today for a dual meet against Mexico. He already looks like the poised pro he will likely become after Sydney.
While touring his alma mater Waipahu High earlier this week, a counselor asked him to step into a faculty meeting and speak.
"I want to thank everyone here who helped make my dream come true," said Viloria. "The media always says I am from Honolulu, but I always correct them. I tell them I'm from Waipahu. It's my home and it's my backbone.''
It's easy for the 5-foot-3 Viloria to maintain a low profile. In his Boston Red Sox cap, a T-shirt and jeans, he blended right in with the students.
"Alright, Brian!" could be heard throughout the campus.
Boys slapped on the local handshake, wishing him luck in Sydney, and girls hugged him. He even sat with a group outside a classroom and tried his hand with a guitar.
Many of the students he saw were freshmen when Viloria was a senior.
Gladys Pablo-Vaguilar, 17, squeezed and teased Viloria about how he hit her in the chest with an overhand tennis shot a few years ago.
"I chased him with the racket," said Pablo-Vaguilar. "I call Brian my 'short kuya,' which means my short brother."
Viloria's younger brother Gaylord, 17, is a 5-10, 225-pound lineman on the Waipahu football team.
"I used to take his food when we were younger," Gaylord said with a laugh.
Viloria will be back in Hawaii next week to meet more well-wishers.
"These are my roots," he said. "This is Brian Viloria. It's who I am."