By: Annaliese Gumboc
A horrific injury brought Kamaluhia Garcia to volleyball.
Born and raised on the Big Island, Kamaluhia — or Malu, as her friends and family call her — grew up in a rodeo family. At the age of eight, she fearlessly ventured into rodeo competitions, borrowing her brother-in-law’s saddle as she didn’t have one of her own. While participating in a barrel racing event, an unfortunate incident occurred when she fell out of the saddle and got her head stepped on by the horse. In the aftermath, Malu’s mother made the decision to switch her focus to volleyball.
Garcia’s mother, who had played high school and college volleyball, harbored a strong desire for her daughter to follow in her footsteps. She became her daughter’s biggest supporter, helping with training and pushing Malu to get better each day.
Kamaluhia fell in love with volleyball, “the court, the audience, everyone cheering on for you,” she said. But playing in Hilo wasn’t enough.
“My mom wanted me to play higher level volleyball and to go to college because in Hilo, it’s not really as competitive as O’ahu,” Kamaluhia said. So, to give Malu and her brother a better shot, her parents dropped everything and moved the family to O’ahu.
The transition proved to be a challenging experience for Kamaluhia, who was around thirteen-years-old when it took place. She had to repeat the seventh grade and acclimate to a significantly more fast-paced environment than Hilo. Above all, what weighed on her heart the most was that she missed her family and friends back on the Big Island.
“A really big impact was not really being able to see my family as often, having to make new friends, and not going to school with people I grew up with,” Garcia said. “I kind of wanted to just stay and just be who I am and not really push and try new things.”
Though it was difficult, Kamaluhia made the most of the move. She made new friends, adapted to O’ahu, and excelled at volleyball. She practiced almost every day, going between workouts, beach volleyball, and indoor volleyball.
Despite the initial hardships, Kamaluhia embraced the move with unwavering determination. She wholeheartedly embraced her new surroundings on O’ahu and forged meaningful connections with new friends. With her focus on volleyball, she dedicated herself to the sport, tirelessly honing her skills through daily practice sessions, including workouts, beach volleyball, and indoor matches. Through her sheer commitment and hard work, she began to excel in the world of volleyball.
In the recent season, she showcased her skills as she led Moanalua with an impressive 116 kills, earning her the title of an OIA first-team outside hitter. The recognition bestowed upon her came as no surprise, for she was well aware of the hard work and effort she had put forth. As a rising senior, she has already made a verbal commitment to join Iowa, solidifying her place in the ranks of a Big Ten indoor volleyball powerhouse. Looking ahead, Garcia envisions a future where she will continue her passion professionally, aspiring to make a mark in the world of volleyball beyond her college years.
Indoor volleyball is where her heart’s at, Kamaluhia says. “When you look back at all your training and all the hard work you’ve done, and every sweat and tear that you put in off and on the court for volleyball, to be the person who you are today. And then you just go on the court or you see all your results and little kids coming up to you and asking you, ‘Oh, can we take a picture?’… That’s what makes me keep pushing and that’s what makes me love volleyball,” Garcia said.
Yet, what Garcia is most proud of isn’t the praise or the accolades — it’s helping others out. She volunteers at the Boy’s & Girl’s Club and at volleyball clinics, and helps teammates who need guidance. “I really love to just help people,” Kamaluhia said. “Especially if it does relate to volleyball. I just really love helping people out, doing hands-on things. Meeting new people, making new friends.”
Kamaluhia believes her helping spirit comes from her Big Island family. “I think when I grew up in Hawai’i, in Hilo — I think my family, no matter if we don’t know anybody, we just help. That’s what aloha is, just helping people. No matter if you don’t know them or not,” she said.
Alhough Malu misses Hilo and her family back home, upon reflection, she realizes that leaving was a pivotal decision for her. “I’m super happy that I moved up here,” she said. “Seeing everything and my journey with volleyball…I’m really happy that my parents brought me up here.”
Volleyball may not have been her first sport, but now, Kamaluhia can’t imagine her life without it. “I think volleyball is just everything,” she said. “It’s a passion. It’s what I grew up to be.”