Running is a lifestyle for this year’s “Big Dog” scholars

For this year’s Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph Scholarship recipients, running isn’t just an athletic pursuit, it’s a source of inspiration.

Four students received $1,500 scholarships—Gianna Chinen, Torrance Sata-Ellis, Landon Yanagisawa, and Cameron Cornforth—and Catherine Nishida received a $500 “Most Inspiring” award.

The scholarship was created in 2006 by the late coach and teacher Wayne Joseph, and has continued since his passing in 2013. Since its inception, the scholarship has awarded more than $70,000 to Big Island student-athletes.

The scholarship is awarded each year to a small group of high school senior track and/or cross country athletes who “exemplify excellence in athletics, academics, volunteerism and general citizenship.”

gianna chinen

Kamehameha Schools: Hawaiian track and cross country runner Gianna Chinen spent her high school career pursuing excellence in all aspects of her life.

“I can confidently say that I took great pride in maintaining a good academic standing,” he said in his scholarship application letter. “Maintaining a GPA greater than 4.0, taking multiple Advanced Placement and honors classes, as well as being fully committed to three sports has not been easy. However, running cross country and track during my high school years was a vital catalyst that allowed me to thrive in academic settings.”

Chinen attended the HHSAA state championships in cross country and track, and was part of the KSH rowing team.

His extracurricular activities included the National Honor Society, the Moot Court Club, the Lifeguard Club, and the Sweet Tooth Club.

“Gianna’s hard work and determination have paid off so well that she captained last year’s cross country season,” KSH cross country coach Ryan Cabalse said in a letter of recommendation. “Her leadership of hers was exceptional, as while she worked hard for herself, she also supported her teammates with intense ‘sisterly’ love and ‘old time’ guidance.

“Gianna was an exceptional role model in that she led by example and I benefited as a coach because freshmen would follow her lead.”

Chinen plans to attend Tufts University, located northwest of Boston, Massachusetts, to study film and media.

“I hope one day to return to Hawaii to use the knowledge I gained from my post-secondary education to make a difference for Hawaii in one way or another,” he said. “Being that voice for my community and communicating in a compelling and trusted way to spread the word about certain pressing issues will benefit Hawaii.

“Having the opportunity to produce and create media solely from a Hawaiian lens is something I strive to do. Inspiring and telling stories of my people to create change for generations to come is what I want to use my education to give back to my community for.”

cameron cornforth

Kealakehe High School valedictorian Cameron Cornforth not only excelled in the classroom, but also in sports.

Cornforth placed third as an individual at the 2022 BIIF Cross Country Championships, helping lead his team to first place. He continued on to the state championship, where he placed 15th to help finish the team third for the Waveriders. During the BIIF track finals this spring, he won silver in the 1,500 and 800-meter races and bronze in the 200-meter dash.

“I’ve met a lot of young guys,” Kealakehe head track and cross country coach Patrick Bradley said. “Cameron is the type of person a leader hopes to find: committed, dedicated, honest, motivated and with solid goals to succeed.”

He will continue his athletic career this fall as part of the Cal State Monterey Bay men’s cross country team, studying marine science to continue turning his love of the ocean into a career.

“My most significant academic achievements are related to my valedictorian status, good grades and good test scores,” Cornforth said. “None of these accomplishments would have been possible without the discipline of running.

“Having time in the day to put all my academics aside and focus solely on improving my body and mind through exercise and fun competition made going back to school a seamless transition. Running with the team every day gives you a moment to take the stress of school off your mind and work up your exercise.”

She also participated in the Kealakehe swim team, as well as the Aloha Teen Theater club and the Interact Club.

Torrance Sata-Ellis

Sata-Ellis garnered all-state attention and praise in every sport he participated in throughout his high school career.

Earlier this month, she won the triple jump gold medal at the HHSAA state championships, measuring a distance of 44 feet, three inches. In soccer, he was a two-way starter and cornerstone of Konawaena High School’s DI State Champion team, and was named ScoringLive Division I Defensive Player of the Year.

An honor student for four consecutive years, Sata-Ellis concluded his senior year with a cumulative GPA of 4.05.

“The rigors of AP and college courses, work and athletics have been strenuous,” he said. “But my passion for running has provided me with many health benefits and, more importantly, a foundation to help overcome challenges.”

Alongside the classroom, he participated in the Konawaena class council, Leo Club, and Polynesian Club.

Sata-Ellis went above and beyond for her community and launched the “Keep KHS Kool” initiative, which made it easy to collect new and gently used fans to help schools that lacked sufficient air conditioning. During the pandemic, she helped run the KHS PPE Drive, which collected PPE products for teachers to use in classrooms.

This fall, he will be moving to Oregon to play soccer at the University of the Pacific.

“Keeping excellence at the top and retaining great academic benchmarks has been an investment,” said Sata-Ellis. “I am honored to note that the motivation comes from my community of teachers, coaches, teammates and family who have contributed to my success and have influenced and impacted me to prevail.

“The role of sports has given me purpose, growth, discipline and confidence to better serve my community and be a better person. No matter where my career ends, I plan to always stay connected to the island of Hawaii, the place I call home.”

landon yanagisawa

Waiakea High School’s Landon Yanagisawa is a straight-A student with literally sky-high aspirations.

The track and cross country runner is an intern for the Federal Aviation Administration at the Hilo Airport Tower and plans to attend flight school to become a commercial airline pilot.

Since high school, he has dedicated numerous hours to helping those in need by volunteering for the Jr. Young Buddhist Association’s monthly “Feed the Hungry” event.

Yanagisawa has been in the WHS band, Japan Club, and student council, and was selected to be oboist with the Hawaii Youth Symphony on Oahu last year.

“I originally joined the cross country team because my older sister was on the team,” she said. “For the next several years, I took up running because I enjoyed the camaraderie and being part of the team. It also helped to have dedicated coaches who believed in me and pushed me through every practice.

“Eventually, running became the reason instead of just wanting to be part of a team. It’s more than just a fun sport, it’s a lifestyle. This sport has taught me lifelong lessons not only about taking care of my body and being healthy, but also about time management, dedication, perseverance and commitment, all of which are important.”

Catherine Nishida, the ‘most inspiring’

Keaau High School’s Catherine Nishida certainly lives up to the title of “most inspiring.” Her teammates and her coach consider her an inspiration to those around her.

“A quiet leader, Catherine has played a vital role in leading our team over the past two seasons,” Keaau cross country coach Gregory Lum Ho said. “I have seen her mature and gain confidence in herself as the season has progressed.

“Our teams were much smaller, but she was always the first to practice and the last to leave, making sure her teammates were ready for the next practice or the next race. She always took the time to answer her teammates/athletes’ questions about nutrition or hydration, and even helped with her homework if needed. Needless to say, Catherine was like an additional coach to the team.”

Throughout his high school career, Nishida was an integral part of the Cougars’ track and cross country teams.

“Running has helped me understand what it’s like to get out of my comfort zone,” she said. “I made friends on and off my teams, improved my communication skills, and became a better person by understanding others.”

In the fall, Nishida will attend Corban University in Salem, Oregon, where she plans to study nursing to become a pediatrician.