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Family, community kept Jenks on righteous path

Gerri-Co Jenks knew at a very young age that his responsibilities were greater than those of his peers.

"When my dad got incarcerated," Jenks said during a sit-down interview prior to the HMSA Kaimana Awards and Scholarship Luncheon at the Hawaii Convention Center on June 9. "I was around eight or nine (years old)."

Jenks, one of 16 recent high school graduates recognized by the annual program for their work both in and outside of the athletics arena, became the first recipient of the Kaimana Award — and the $5,000 scholarship that comes with it — from Waianae High School.

Jenks played football, wrestled and competed in track and field for the Seariders — a privilege in his eyes.

"That right there is, it's a family," he said. "It's super special and you cannot change nothing about Waianae. I guess the legacy behind it is so strong and there's just something special about it."

On the gridiron, Jenks excelled on the offensive line. He earned First Team All-Oahu Interscholastic Association Division I Blue Conference honors and was an All-Hawaii Honorable Mention selection.

In his first year of wrestling, Gerri-co Jenks finished fourth in the 285-pound weight class at the 2017 HHSAA Wrestling State Championships. A year later, he finished third. Michael Lasquero | SL    Purchase image

But it was on the wrestling mat that Jenks found a new passion as a junior two years ago.

"My brother (Levi) started wrestling his sophomore year and he was always encouraging me to try and try, but I was looking at it and I was like, ‘Brah, I no like come skinny,' because I was a big boy and I just don't want to come super skinny and become weak on the (offensive) line so I was pushing it away, like, ‘Nah, I don't want to do it,' but when he went off to college he really told me that it would make him happier if I joined wrestling and that it doesn't matter if I win or lose. It's just about doing a thing that will make you better in life and so I just took that to heart and I went and tried it and I liked it and I thought I should have done it since my freshman year instead of my junior year," Jenks said.

After being a part of a five-man unit on the offensive line, Jenks found himself in one-on-one combat. That part he enjoyed. It was the form-fitting singlet that took some getting used to.

"My first year going into a singlet, it was so weird. It just felt weird; like you're naked almost. Versus like football, you got everything on, so you cannot really see," Jenks laughed.

Ultimately, he overcame his consternations about the uniform and quickly became a force to be reckoned with.

"The mentality is just, when I'm on the mat I'm just blanked out. My goal is just to win or pin the guy and just get off the mat as fast as I can," Jenks said.

After settling in on the mat, Jenks found the words of wrestling icon Dan Gable to ring true. That is, "Once you've wrestled, everything else in life is easy."

"When you wrestle, it's different. You run, you condition and you gotta run long times and I slowly felt like I was gaining that and when I got on the mat for my first match, I liked it and I always thought I could do more and I just kept on pushing and kept getting myself better," said Jenks, who drew motivation from trying to improve upon Levi's wrestling accolades.

"My brother took sixth in states; my goal was always trying to beat my brother's (achievements)," Jenks said. "He didn't get a scholarship for football, I got a scholarship. I took third in states, he didn't, so I'm always trying to be better than my older brothers and I guess that's what drove me as well: to always be better than my brother. That's what really pushed me."

As a senior Jenks captured the Western Division crown in the heavyweight (285-pound) weight class. He placed second in the OIA Championships and claimed third place in the Texaco/HHSAA State Championships in February.

Jenks, who competed in the shot put and big boys' relay race in track and field, is the third oldest of 10 siblings. He said growing up in Waianae wasn't always easy, but it's played a big part in shaping him into the young man he is today.

"When I was younger, I thought it was always hard because seeing homeless people on the side of the road and really coming from a place with poverty and a low-income place, that was hard and seeing where I am today and where God brought me out of, it really is life-changing. It really changed my life and I'm really thankful to God that he was there and really pushing me through without even knowing that he was by just putting people in my life in certain places to guide me out of the situations I was in," said Jenks, who credits Pastor Guyson Amina — a former Waianae football player himself — for keeping him on the straight and narrow.

"He always guides me through ups and downs. Whenever I need someone to talk to, that's one of the people I talk to," Jenks said.

Another person crucial to Jenks' upbringing has been his mother Michelle.

"When my dad got incarcerated in prison, my mom really needed someone, or something to fall back into and I guess church was there," Jenks said. "When I like an infant, my mom started going (to church) and we just started getting plugged into the word and ever since that I've just been stuck into church and I've been really trying to keep myself around the church environment and sports as well to keep me out of the bad things, keep me out of the streets and drugs and stuff like that."

Jenks said that it was when his father was taken away from the household that he and his mother grew even closer.

"When he went away, my mom needed help with things around the house. When she wasn't at home, no one was there to watch me and my younger (siblings), so I had to step up because she really needed my help and she really counted on me to watch them at a very young age," he said. "That right there showed that my mom really needed my help and I had to grow up a lot faster than I thought I did."

Jenks said church and sports has helped keep him out of the streets and away from drugs. But one of his main motivations was always trying to be better than his older brothers. CJ Caraang | SL

Jenks described his role at home like this:

"My role is like a father figure to them, because we never had a father and they always ask me for help and advice or stuff for sports. My younger brothers are all into sports and they really need help, so I just help them, take the time out of my day to really show them things that they need help on, or in school I help them," he said.

Despite the hardships and numerous responsibilities growing up, Jenks knew — before even becoming a teenager — that his mom was doing her very best for the family.

"She goes over and beyond," he said. "I didn't even know about this (Kaimana) scholarship, but she was like nagging me and getting me into it. She was really on me about this scholarship, so I just listened and obeyed her, as the Bible says, as one of the commandments, so I just obeyed her and did it."

Along the way, Jenks learned about compassion through altruism. He volunteered to deliver food to the homeless, spent time with the elderly in a retirement home and also took time to read to kids.

Jenks will attend MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where he received a football scholarship. Leighland Tagawa | SL

"It all started from football, from giving back to the little kids and really telling them that they have a pathway to success but you just have to find it in whatever it might be — sports, education — it's there, you just have to find it and I really took that to heart," Jenks said. "I feel like I'm a big brother to the kids in our community and we might not be related by blood, but I think we're related by sports and our community."

Jenks will attend MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where he received a football scholarship.

Despite the distance from his hometown, Jenks said he will always carry the community of Waianae and its people close to his heart.

"It's very satisfying because it's giving back to the community and really seeing the joy on people's faces and it just brings joy to my heart because I know I'm giving back to a good town and good people and one day they'll see something good in me and they'll want to give back to me as well when I'm older," Jenks said.

For more information on the HMSA Kaimana Awards and Scholarship Program and bios of this year's winners, visit the HMSA website.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].



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