Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, August 1, 2002


Isaac Lau will be beating the cadence drum for his team when they race in the seventh annual Dragon Boat Festival at Ala Moana Beach Park on Saturday.

Enter the dragon

Isaac Lau will live out
his dream in Saturday’s
Dragon Boat Fesitval

Burl Burlingame tries his hand

By Cindy Luis

In his dreams, he can do anything. Ice skating. Gymnastics. Running.

When Isaac Lau closes his eyes, he enjoys a freedom that he has never known in his 20 years. Diagnosed with a degenerative muscular disorder at birth -- the same disease that afflicted his older sister Tammy -- Lau has been in a wheelchair most of his life.

But it hasn't stopped the part-time Kapiolani Community College student from fulfilling a number of goals. He is an Eagle Scout, an active member of his church, and he's fluent in four languages as he studies for a degree in a fifth.

Saturday, the Kalani High School graduate will realize another dream: being part of a team. Thanks to sponsoring AT&T Hawaii, which paid the $450 entry fee, Team Isaac Lau will compete in the seventh annual Dragon Boat Festival at Ala Moana Beach Park.

Lau was originally going to be one of the 16 paddlers, but a blister on his thumb has turned him into the drummer. For someone who has long listened to his own beat, it's the perfect role for Lau.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I've been wanting to do this for a long time. It's been hard, because I cannot do most sports.

"When I was growing up, I used to see people playing soccer and basketball. But when I asked if I could play, they wouldn't let me. They saw I couldn't do it, but I still wanted to."

Instead, Lau found sports he could do such as swimming and horseback riding. Through the Therapeutic Horsemanship Program, Lau and 20-year-old horse Romeo go riding at Koko Head Stables once a week.

He's also participated in wheelchair basketball and special outrigger canoe races. But there's something about the ocean he can't resist.

Lau took some time to cool off in the waters off Duke Kahanamoku Beach, where the boats are moored, after he tried out the drummer's bow seat in his team's boat.

"The water is like second nature to me," said Lau. "I like the ocean better than the pool. It's a wider space."

There may be physical limitations as to what Lau's body can do, but it hasn't stopped him from succeeding on a number of levels. He enjoys cooking, pounding mochi and doing origami.

A 4.0 student at KCC, he hopes to become an international sign language interpreter.

His aptitude for languages was discovered early. It all started with a Nintendo game with instructions in Japanese.

"I was 8 and I asked 'Mommy, read it to me,' " he said. "But she couldn't. So I took it upon myself to learn Japanese. Today, I am fluent in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, English and sign language. They're all pretty easy for me."

He does sign language interpretation at his church, the Hawaii Kai Ward of the Mormon Church. He and sister Tammy also put together a handicap awareness day.

"I came up with the idea and a lot of people participated," said Lau. "We put people in wheelchairs and blindfolded some. They learned what we have to go through."

"He's full of a wonderful spirit," JoAnn Lau said of her son. "And he's been practicing that drum."

"This is a like a 'Make-A Wish' for him," said Lau's father Norrin. "It's been his dream to compete. Our team is made up of half relatives, half church members. We have 16 paddlers but we have 40 T-shirts for everyone who is part of the team."

Usually when Isaac Lau closes his eyes, he pictures himself as an ice skater or a gymnast competing in events like the Olympics.

Saturday, he'll open them and the competition will be for real.

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