Q&A with Keani Shirai

University of Hawai‘i at Hilo graduate Keani Shirai is in her third year of the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, Oregon. A former Vulcan soccer player, Keani reflects back on her time as a Vulcan athlete and shares what makes the Vulcan Athletics program so special.

What did you love most about being a Vulcan athlete?

As someone who was born and raised in Hilo, the thing I loved most about being a Vulcan athlete was the opportunity that I had to represent my community and also being able to be a role model for the kids in my hometown. 

What is your fondest memory of your time at UH Hilo? What makes that memory so special?

My fondest memory of my time at UH Hilo was winning our 2017 season opener in Oahu against Pace University. We had only had about two weeks of practice before playing that game, and we ended up winning 2-0. It was such an amazing experience to see all the hard work we put in over the summer and in preseason pay off. Everyone was so stoked, and we just felt like we were on top of the world. We were so proud of one another and what we had accomplished together. That feeling of teamwork and ʻohana is why I play the game.

In your opinion, what makes the Vulcan Athletics program so special?

What makes the Vulcan Athletics program so special is the coaches and staff. We aren’t a wealthy program, we don’t necessarily have the best facilities….but every person you encounter as a student-athlete is there to help you be successful. Everyone’s number one goal is to make sure you have a great student-athlete experience from the classroom to the pitch. It is the tireless, and many times, thankless work of the coaches and staff that makes the Vulcan Athletics program so special. 

Were there any experiences (either as a Vulcan athlete or as a UHH student in general) that prepared you for what you’re doing today?

I am currently in my third year of the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program at NUNM in Portland, OR. I think academically I was well prepared for the studies of my current program. I got my B.A. in Biology and Communication, as well as a minor in Chemistry, and all of my classes from general education classes to 400/500 level major classes helped shape me into a really well-rounded student. As a student-athlete, you need time management skills, but as a Vulcan student-athlete, you need GREAT time management skills. Having to travel for games and being gone from class for upwards of 2 weeks for some trips forced me to plan ahead and communicate with professors, as well as be self-directed in my studies. Safe to say those skills came in handy in medical school, especially in the uncertain times of COVID-19 distance learning. 

What drew you to medical school? Did you always know you wanted to go into medicine?

I come from a family of doctors, so I knew I wanted to be a doctor from a young age. I’ve always wanted to help people. I remember my family packing up to go to Kapoho and I would pack my homemade first-aid kit, just in case anyone got hurt. That passion for helping people has stuck with me throughout my life. Toward the ending of my time at UH Hilo, I realized that maybe my path wasn’t as clear cut as it had been all my life. As I really sat down and looked at the state of our medical system, I felt there had to be something more to wellness that wasn’t being addressed. That’s when I discovered Naturopathic Medicine. Naturopathic Medicine was my answer. As NDs we aim to identify and treat the root cause of disease, by facilitating and assisting the body to do what it does best. I feel that I have truly found my passion and am stoked to graduate next year and eventually come back and serve my Hilo community.

University of Hawai‘i Alumni