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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 6, 2010

Mistakes happen, and they’ll make us better

By Curtis Murayama
Advertiser Sports Editor

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Curtis Murayama

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kaiser’s Cathy Nash, left, and Kahuku quarterback Walter Santiago learned life lessons.

Advertiser library photos

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Editor's Note: Curtis Murayama has been with The Advertiser since 1978, first as a reporter then page designer, the past 11 years as the Sports Editor, and always as an NFL draft fan. He is a Kaimuki High School and University of Oregon graduate.

After 32 years at The Advertiser, the thing I remember most is something I messed up the most as a rookie reporter.

The event, though, would change my approach to journalism, help me during another sensitive interview and provide a reminder that sports, no matter the outcome, can provide life's best lessons.

The event occurred in November of 1978. It was the state high school cross country championships at the Pali Golf Course. Simple assignment, I thought. Just watch the race, interview the winners. Easy.

But what happened that day would stay with me to this day and eventually influence how I handled interviews and people.

The girls championship was supposed to boil down to a race between two competitors — Kaiser's Cathy Nash and Kahuku's Val Cravens.

I remember the two pulling away from the pack, and then, with the finish line in sight, sprinting shoulder-to-shoulder to the finish.

Both hit what they thought was the finish line and collapsed.

One problem. They, along with every runner, had run an incorrect course, and officials signaled runners to run another loop.

Cravens would eventually get up and finish, but well behind. The favorite, Nash, fell in a heap and let all her emotions go. She would be disqualified as soon as she was touched by her coach, Mitchell Otani, who held her back and told her she was done.

Nash, now Cathy Gonsalves, 48, a Willamette graduate who has two children, said, "I remember it like it was yesterday."

She remembers being able to walk the course beforehand and seeing golf balls bounce by. She remembers being told that the finish line was just above a certain hill. She remembers using a tree near the hill as a visual marker to let her know when she had to kick going up the hill. She remembers following the golf cart — which I was in — to the finish.

"I remember coming to the finish line and crossing it and (the driver) stopping the cart and jumping out, then jumping back in," she said. "I collapsed and Val collapsed. She got back up and continued to run."

But she was held back by Otani, who, according to Nash, said, "'Cathy, no, you're done. You're exhausted.' I laid there and I was crying."

Well, it had the elements of a good story. It ended up on A1, thanks in large part to the fine rewriting of then Sports Editor Jim Richardson.

Then I was asked the question that would shape me as a journalist: "Did I talk to Nash?"

I said, "No," and I believe I was then asked, "Why not?"

My thinking then was that I didn't want to approach Nash while she was in such a disheartened and vulnerable state, sobbing in disappointment, frustration, anger.

"You had a heart to not go past that, to let me have the feelings and have the time," said Nash recently.

But later it occurred to me that I could have displayed compassion while still adhering to my responsibility as a journalist.

What I could have and should have done was wait: 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes or however long until she composed herself and then try to speak with her.

On that day I learned about the trade and maybe about myself.

What did she learn from the experience?

"Don't keep it inside. Don't hold grudges ... just go on, things happen for a reason," she said.

It is a message she tells her children. "Just continue on."

Years later I would get to apply that experience.

It was in the OIA football championship game between Wai'anae and Kahuku in 1986.

Kahuku led 13-7 in the third quarter when quarterback Walter Santiago called an audible and threw an out pattern that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Wai'anae would win, 14-13.

In the lockerroom afterward, I asked coach Lester Souza if I could interview Walter. Souza, as all coaches would, tried to protect Walter by saying he didn't want to talk.

I said I'd be OK if Walter himself told me that.

Instead, Walter waved me in and I got an interview.

I appreciated that he was man enough to speak and take responsibility.

To this day, Walter, a teacher at Kahuku High, where he's also the quarterback coach, wasn't certain why he wanted to go on record.

"At the time, it was an opportunity for me to explain," Santiago said a few weeks ago. "Why I made the choice. What happened. I made a mistake. Now I gotta live with it."

The memories still sting for both Nash and Santiago.

"If I go that way, when I drive by that Pali, I always look to the left," Nash said.

"Somethings just don't go away," Santiago said.

But in the end, both say they've become stronger because of the ordeal.

"I think I've learned that we're all going to make mistakes — some will have heavier weight on it, like a championship," Santiago said. "But don't let one choice that you made get you down. You gotta get up and move forward. (That's the) most important thing I learned — you're gonna make mistakes. Learn from it and move on."