Akeo: The art of overcoming
By Eddie Mabanglo - Staff Reporter
For Thunderbird wrestler Shandon Akeo, overcoming adversaries on and off the mats has always been about putting in hard work — or as he calls it — "the grind."
On Feb. 10, the 133-pound wrestler from Hawaii punched his ticket to the NJCAA National Tournament with a second-place finish at Regionals in Idaho. Akeo is one of the "Magnificent 6" wrestlers who will be competing on behalf of Highline March 1–2 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Akeo's left hand is a radial club hand, the result of an early operation to correct a birth defect.
"When I was born, there was no bone in my thumb, it was like a noodle," Akeo said. "So, they did surgery to make my pointer finger like a thumb so I could grab things," he said.
Akeo said that it has had no effect on his wrestling game.
"The only challenge I had with my hand in wrestling was just trying not to be shy when people asked me about it," Akeo said. "I got over it growing up and now I'm super open to sharing what happened to my hand to people."
Akeo's interest in wrestling started at age 9, when he was encouraged to pick up the sport by his father.
"[My dad] got me into it. He did boxing and ju-jitsu but he never wrestled so he wanted to put me in it and it just stuck," Akeo said.
Like his father, Akeo also trains in boxing and ju-jitsu himself.
Ju-jitsu, translated to "the art of soft- ness" from Japanese, was the wrestling sys- tem of the samurai in ancient Japan. Jujit- su's prominent feature is the ability to use opponents' energy and momentum against them, a skill that comes in handy in wrestling competition.
"I love it and it really opens up my wrestling. It helps with my scrambling and body awareness," Akeo said.
Ju-jitsu is now the official self-defense system taught to officers of the Tokyo Police Department, as well as one of the most common styles seen in contemporary mixed martial arts (MMA) programs.
"I plan to get into MMA after I'm done with college," said Akeo, whose dedication to sport and self eventually led him to a Hawaii State Championship in 2015, where he competed for Kapolei High School.
"Before the match, I was thinking about all the work I put in and constantly telling myself that I would win because no one trained as hard as me," said Akeo, who won that match over Joseph Fong of University High School.
Video of the match showcases Akeo's agility, which forced Fong to play the majority of the match on defense just to keep up. Akeo won by pin in just over a minute and a half.
"After I won, I couldn't believe it at first," said Akeo. "But I just knew I did it and I was so happy. All the work I put in paid off."
Akeo often credits his success to the amount of training and practice he does in his spare time. His teammates and coaches alike have noticed the time he's been putting in during this season.
Akeo trains at home and at a nearby gym when he's not at wrestling practice.
Akeo caught the attention of Head Coach Scott Norton following his first-place finish at the Boxer Open in Forest Grove, Ore.
"Shandon looked dominant through the tournament. He was going from takedowns to immediate turns," said Coach Norton.
That day, Akeo defeated Umpqua's Richard Rolfe, Southwestern Oregon's Aaron Runion, and Umpqua's Johnny Maldonado. All victories that day were by pin.
Akeo also received praise from Norton after his second-place finish at the West Regional Championships on Feb. 10.
"Highline was led by Shandon Akeo, who made the finals by pinning his old rival Christian Balagso from Southwestern Oregon," said Norton. Akeo lost the final match to No. 2 ranked Jason Shaner of Clackamas.
"Shandon set the tone for the entire team," Norton added.
Akeo has been using the time off before Nationals to prepare mentally and physically.
"[I've] just been focusing on school, keeping my grades up. Also been doing a lot of recovery like icing whatever is sore and stretching, just trying to get my body feeling good for the national tournament," said Akeo.
"But I do like to spend time with my friends to clear and take things off of my mind," he added.
The National Junior College Athletic Association's National Wrestling Championships start in Council Bluffs, Iowa on March 1.