Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • April 13, 2021
Brain Tumor Did Not Stop Nebraska Commit Keonilei Akana
Nick Abramo

Keonilei Akana

Keonilei Akana was part of two Kamehameha state championship teams in three trips to the state final. (From HUDL).


These setbacks didn’t stop her, though, and Akana finished her senior year last fall with Honolulu Star-Advertiser Player of the Year honors and a second state championship in her three years being on the court with the Warriors. She also signed a letter of intent to play for Nebraska.


“I was 14 when I found out I had a tumor on the left side of my brain,” Akana wrote in an essay that was part of her application for consideration to be inducted into the Hawaii High School Hall of Honor. “It was the summer before my freshman year, and I had traveled across the country to compete in volleyball tournaments. When I returned home, I was probably fatigued from all the travel but didn’t recognize the signs because I was so excited to start high school. Tryouts for the varsity team were a week away, and I wanted to prepare for the first fitness test required to make the team: the mile and a half run. I set out to go on a jog and kept pace with my sister (Braelyn), who was already on the team. At the end of our run, we walked back to the gym to meet up with our parents. … We sat and waited, we talked, but something just didn’t feel right. I was beginning to feel disoriented and fatigued. My sister’s speech seemed jumbled and I couldn’t understand what she was saying. Then, in a matter of minutes, I blacked out and fell forward from two flights of stairs. I hit face first onto the cement floor and the impact of my fall caused a seizure. The next morning I woke up in the hospital, where my family and I learned about my tumor. There was immediate discussion about surgery and further treatment. But despite the seriousness of the situation, all I could think about was school and volleyball.”


Two brain surgeries and six weeks of radiation treatments became part of her life as a high school student as she continued to play volleyball.


“I battled extreme exhaustion, poor focus, and continuous frustration with my circumstances,” she continued in the essay. “My recovery was not smooth sailing. I had some good days and a lot of bad ones too. Throughout it all, I learned that I can’t control everything in my life, but I can control the way I deal with it. Dwelling on my surgery wasn’t going to make things better. So instead, I focused on the recovery and what truly mattered in my life, such as my faith, my relationship with my family and friends, as well as striving to reach my maximum potential as a student-athlete. … I earned my Young Women in Excellence Medallion, won two state championships, trained with the USAV A1 National Training team, and stayed on top of my studies. In the end, it taught me that I can do hard things and that I am stronger than I ever imagined.”


RELATED: Kamehameha’s ‘Peanut’ Terukina Will Wrestle At Iowa State


In her three years as a varsity player, Akana came up big in three appearances in the state final. In a 3-0 win over ‘Iolani as a sophomore, she had six kills, 11 digs and four block assists. As a junior, despite a 3-0 loss to the Raiders, Akana had 11 kills and 15 digs. Then as a senior, she blasted 22 kills with 11 digs in a 3-1 win over Punahou.


Akana did not make the 12-member Hall of Honor, but she was among the finalists. She’s raring to go for the Cornhuskers, whenever college volleyball returns post-COVID-19.


“I know that obstacles will come my way and life will continue to hand me ups and downs,” she wrote. “But, because of the challenges I’ve endured, I’m confident I can overcome them.”

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