Very few of us know what it is like to be a State Champion in a sport, but for Joshua Villanueva he has experienced it four times and in three different sports.
“I am competitive from birth,” Villanueva said.
While in elementary school Villanueva participated in every sport that was being played at the time.
“I would play during recess and lunch while at Kapiolani Elementary School,” he said. “So I did wrestling, kickball, flag football, just to name a few that I participated in during intramural sports in grade school.”
The school bus that dropped Villanueva at his doorstep after school even became a challenge for the youngster.
“I wondered if I could beat the bus home if I ran?” Villanueva said.
Sure enough chasing that bus home led to another sport and eventually another state championship.
In Intermediate School Villanueva started boxing for Homestead Boxing Club in Hilo.
“It was in the seventh grade that I got my first taste at victory on the amateur level,” Villanueva said. “I went on to win the state championships in the Junior Golden Gloves tournament and went to nationals.”
By his freshman year at Hilo High, Villanueva was making a name for himself in distance running and by his junior year, 1997-’98, was crowned State Champion in cross country and in the 3200 meter run on the track.
But Villanueva wasn’t done and in his senior year won yet another State Championship this time in the 3000 meter run on the track while also setting a state record which stood for three years.
Today Villanueva is back in Hilo and is employed as an Armored Car Driver by day and a full time father by night.
“I have three beautiful children, Kekoa, Dylan and Ava,” he said.
“I will make 31 years of age in September and it will also be the second anniversary of my father’s passing,” he said. “My dad pushed me to be the man I am today.”
Being an Armored Car Driver, like running, is all about time.
“I have moments of stressfulness from time to time because we always have to be on time,” Villanueva said.
How Villanueva overcomes that stress is by taking deep breathes while pushing forward.
“The concept is almost like running a 5K,” he said. “You know your time markers and you push to hit those times. When you are behind you gotta dig deep to get that strength to reach your goal.”
Villanueva stresses his spiritual belief in helping him through rough times.
“I give God the credit for all my strength, for all my victories and for all the opportunities,” he said.
Today this four time state champion stays in shape by doing a variety of activities.
“Now days I stay active by running two to four miles every other day,” he said.
Besides his running he will regularly do chin-ups, push-ups, sit ups while lifting weight on a daily bases.
“I am also paddling for Na Wa’a Hanakahi, and I participate in the regattas on the weekends,” he said.
Villanueva races in the Novice B Mix and his team has experienced some victories.
To help with his overall fitness Villanueva will also watch what he eats by trying to eat less carbohydrates and more protein.
“I drink a lot more water and stay away from carbonated drinks like sodas and beer, although I will have one from time to time,” he said.
Villanueva for the past few months has been eating a lot of tuna and steak along with lean meats.
“I don’t eat as much rice as I use to and I will definitely stay away from bread,” he said. “My goal with my diet is to get healthier, but there are perks that come with this type of diet.”
Villanueva’s father, Paul, passed away two years ago at the age of 52 of a massive heart attack.
“My father had congestive heart failure and it is important to me to live a healthy life so that I can enjoy watching my children and hopefully one day my grandchildren grow up,” he said.
But nothing comes easy as Villanueva finds a lack of motivation in working out today.
“Some days I am tired and stressed so that I don’t have the desire to do my workouts,” he said. “I work long hours on most days, so it’s hard to get a run in. On busy days I would do some pushups and chin ups to keep the muscles stimulated.”
Out of all his state championships Villanueva is most proud of what he did in his senior year at Hilo when the state converted from the 3200 to the 3000 meters and from the 1600 to the 1500 meters in track and field.
“I ran a 9:05.27 to set a state record that stood for a couple of years in the 3K,” Villanueva said. “I went into the race with a chip on my shoulder because I lost the state cross country championship and came in third.”
And what is in store for this four sport state champion?
“I plan on running in the upcoming Hilo to Volcano (distance of 31 miles all uphill) with my good friend Mike Daly,” Villanueva said. “I also would like to do a couple of 5K’s and 10K’s throughout the years.”
Whatever Villanueva plans to do in the future you can be sure he’ll do it with the heart of a champion.
And someday should you happen to see a lifelong runner come meandering through the streets of East Hawaii remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
It takes heart and a lot of courage to be a boxer and it takes a lot more to battle with a life threatening disease such as leukemia.
Such is the case for 9 year old, North Kohala boxer, Iokepa James-Fainga who was diagnosed with the disease earlier this year and is currently undergoing treatment on Oahu.
“Iokepa was complaining of some aches and pains and of felling tired,” Big Island Boxing Club coach Jesus Solis said. “It was during a family vacation to Oahu that he took a turn for the worse and developed a fever that he was taken to Kapiolani Medical Center and they came up with the diagnoses.”
Solis and the Big Island Boxing Club will be hosting a 20 bout card on Saturday, September 11, that will include amateur boxers from throughout the state with proceeds from the event going to the James-Fainga family.
“Part of the family have moved to Oahu to be near Iokepa and the cost for treatment and travel continue to skyrocket, so our boxing event is a way to help the family with some of their expenses,” Solis said.
North Kohala boxers Lindo Matsu IV, Orion Stevens, Jordan Kaneshiro, Jason Tanaka and Tupu Toafili will be featured on the card along with two 25 year old ladies Liesl Rietkerk and Renee Wulzen at 125 pounds. The event takes place at the Hisaoka Gymnasium at the King Kamehameha Park in Kapaau.
“We’re dedicating the boxing event to one of our youngest participants, Iokepa James-Fainga who was recently diagnosed with leukemia,” Solis said.
“We’re calling our boxing show ‘Fighting for Iokepa’, Solis said. “This event is sanctioned by Amateur Boxing of Hawaii and we’re hoping that the community will come out and support us and the James-Fainga family.”
Solis was the Western States Regional Golden Gloves champion in 1969 and went on to become a boxing coach at Chico State University in the early 70’s. In 1992 he founded Al Amanecer Boxing Club in Napa California which he ran for 10 years.
“We had one of the best boxing clubs in Northern California and in 1997 we were chosen best club in the North West,” Solis said. “We worked with the community to provide young people with an outlet for their frustration and had over 150 people participating in the club.”
Solis moved to the Big Island in October 2009 from Washington State where he helped organize a boxing club as a means of keeping young people out of trouble. “I really believe that boxing can build confidence and develop character,” Solis said. “Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve seen firsthand the benefits this sport has to offer.”
Since coming to the Big Island Solis has slowly grown his boxing club to 42 members with 30 young adults and 12 keiki.
“Our youngest is 8 years old and our oldest members are in their mid 30’s,” he said. “This will be our second time hosting a boxing event as we held one this past June.”
Currently the BIBC trains out of a business facility called Kar Tow Kohala in Hawi as they meet on a regular bases.
“The Kohala community was concerned with giving our young people something to do and a place where they could get their frustrations out,” Solis said. “To be a good boxer you need to be dedicated to the sport, work hard and have heart.”
Featured on the boxing card will be fighters from Kauai PAL, Shalom Boxing Academy, along with boxing clubs representing River of Life, Kailua-Kona, Yeshua Outreach Center, Bulls Eye and Ocean View.
Boxers ranging in weight from 69 pounds up to 227 pounds and from ages 9 through 27 will be competing according to Solis.
“We’re still hoping that some other clubs will join us and help make this event a success,” Solis said.
Entry fees for the Sept 11 event are $10 for adults, $5 for keiki 8 through 17 and free for those under the age of eight as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
Those who are unable to attend the boxing show and wish to donate to the James-Fainaga family can contact event organizers Jesus or Megan Solis at 884-5986.
The Big Island Boxing Club operates under the sponsorship of the North Community Resource Center. Donations to the club are accepted and tax-deductible, according to Solis.
Checks should be made out to NKCRC and earmarked for the Big Island Boxing Club. For more information about the boxing club or its Sept 11 show contact Solis via telephone or email at email@example.com.