Brian Kajiyama earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Hawaii. His grade-point average was a sparkling 3.54.

A Warrior
through and through

A young man reaches his objective
despite illness and surgery

By Helen Altonn

When he was a kid going to football, baseball and basketball games with his dad, Brian Kajiyama told people he would play sports some day at the University of Hawaii.

"Well, as I grew up, I realized that being a star athlete for UH wouldn't be in my future," said the avid sports fan, who was born with severe cerebral palsy.

So he set his goal for academic excellence instead.

Undeterred by a wheelchair, the inability to speak and multiple surgeries, the 26-year-old graduated from the University of Hawaii -- with a grade point average of 3.54 -- in December, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree focusing on advocacy for the disabled.

"He has been through a lot," his mother, Grace, said, recounting the risky hip, spine and brain surgeries he endured.

She said his lungs collapsed when he was born, and he was deprived of oxygen, which often causes cerebral palsy. This is a disorder resulting in weakness, impaired control of movement, sensory perception and sometimes intelligence.

"They (doctors) were guardedly optimistic that he would be able to do things," she said. "I guess that's one of the reasons everyone is so proud of him."

Although he could not play football, Kajiyama became one of the Warriors' most dedicated fans.

"Things worked out to allow me to follow the team in ways I never could have dreamed of," he said, telling his story to the Star-Bulletin by e-mail.

After his mother dropped him off at the campus early every morning, he began watching practices to support some classmates. He developed friendships with the players and met some of the coaches, who would ask him about school and joke around with him, he said.

During off-season practices last spring, he said he "received a huge surprise" when coach June Jones called him out on the field and presented him with a green jersey, No. 31, with "Kajiyama" on the back.

"The players cheered and congratulated me. I was extremely shocked, and it's a memory I'll carry with me forever," he said.

An even bigger surprise occurred Dec. 7 when seniors were called one by one to walk around the stadium after the season's last game. Kajiyama was on the sideline with his mother as in past years to give his friends leis.

"Then all of a sudden, I heard MY name called out," he said. "Everything after that was a blur, but I rolled out and got congratulations and well wishes from coach Jones and other coaches and players. It was definitely a night to remember."

Among those watching was Susie Urata, a retired nurse from Shriners who had worked with Kajiyama when he was a patient there. A longtime UH football ticket holder, she had seen him at other games, but "never did I realize he was a big part of this, that he was going to practices every day."

After he was introduced, she said, "He throws his power chair into full throttle, whizzes down the 'chute' to the cheers and high fives of all players and to the thrill of the fans. ... I started crying."

Kajiyama said the football team's dedication and hard work inspired him "to always aim for excellence."

Describing Kajiyama as "an amazing man," Jones said the inspiration is mutual. His commitment to be at the practices "makes a statement to the whole team," Jones said.

"Along with Brian, the commitment his family has made for him is truly a testimony about love and caring and about just putting the other guy first, which is what we're all about."

Kajiyama also was active in 2001-02 as a member of the Mortar Board Hui Po'okela Chapter, an honor society for college seniors.

He was required to participate in at least 10 service projects. He and others were not sure he could do it, but he "decided that I would prove to them and myself that I could meet this challenge."

Within four months, he met the quota and "challenged myself to see how many I could participate in."

"He ended up with at least 30 projects," his mother said, as well as performing community service through the Golden Key International Honor Society.

"He's very bright and very unique," Urata said. Although he is "profoundly affected" by cerebral palsy, she said when he visited Shriners she would see him "over in the corner reading heavy stuff -- classics, great literature -- or doing math. ...

"As a nonverbal person, very often he doesn't have to speak. His face speaks."

Kajiyama said, "I took pride in excelling in the classroom and felt that perhaps if I did well, others would realize that a person with a disability has just as much ability and potential as anyone else."

His next goal is to earn a master's degree in counseling and guidance and help others as a counselor.

Kajiyama lives in Kailua with his mother, a work-force development specialist at the state Labor Department, and father, Bert, with the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii. He has twin sisters, Lori and Lynn, college sophomores on the mainland.

E-mail to City Desk


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