Saturday, December 4, 2004

Honolulu police officer Jeffrey Omai is shown here helping to sail a vessel.

Hokule‘a vet believes
in officer’s grit

The perseverance that made Honolulu police officer Jeffrey "Keahi" Omai a top-notch canoe navigator will help him overcome serious injuries he received in the line of duty Thursday, his friend and mentor Nainoa Thompson said yesterday.

"He's so strong-willed, and that's going to make a huge difference in his recovery," Thompson said. "He's a powerful, spiritual man."

Omai was struck by a van driven by a fugitive at Honolulu Community College on Thursday. He remains in the Queen's Medical Center in guarded condition, with head injuries and possible internal injuries.

Omai had designated Thompson, chairman of the board of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, as the person to contact in case of an emergency.

Omai is single and an only child whose parents are dead, so Thompson is conferring with Omai's first cousins about his care, he said.

"He's doing the best he can, from my unprofessional opinion," Thompson said.

Thompson said Omai was conscious and "knows we are there," but was medically sedated to keep him from moving around and aggravating his condition.

Thompson helped teach Omai how to navigate a traditional Hawaiian sailing canoe without modern instruments.

After logging more than 5,000 sailing hours between 1990 and 1995, Omai was co-navigator on a 1995 voyage of the sailing canoe Hokule'a to Tahiti, Thompson said.

"He did an exceptional job," Thompson said, noting that the travel time for that trip was the fastest of five Polynesian Voyaging Society voyages to Tahiti.

Omai stayed awake 21 to 23 hours each day, observing the currents and the stars, and stayed alert, focused and able to direct the crew, Thompson said. That kind of dedication must make him a good officer as well, he said.

When Omai decided to join the police force in 1999, Thompson said at first he thought it was an unusual choice, but then he understood. "He's a caring guy, and (becoming a police officer) is how he decided to keep this community safe," Thompson said.

Once on the police force, Omai could not sail as much, but was able to participate in September sea trials of the society's newest canoe, Thompson said.

When he heard Omai had been injured on the job, Thompson said, "I felt absolutely angered. I felt helpless that someone had put him at risk when what Hawaii needs is more of him."

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