Kai Staal: The Eighth Saipanese Wonder of the World

Kai Staal in 1997, a monkey child climbing a coconut tree on the island of Rota.

Kai Staal, an 18-year-old Ashland High School student, who can out swim anyone in the state, has been told he cannot compete. Born in Ashland, Staal’s parents moved to the small island of Rota when he was only 4 months old. Next they moved to a neighboring island in the Pacific chain called Saipan. Being only 10 by 13 miles long,   Staal grew to love the island and made many close friends in his small school, which held less than 100 students. With children from varying backgrounds, and hope for the future, Staal says that going to school there taught him,  “… How to accept each person for who they truly are, not who they try to be.” Having moved back to Ashland this year, to attend Ashland High School, he has encountered quite contrast between island life and “bigger” setting found here… But more on that later.

Staal says swimming has always been a part of his life. Beginning to swim before he could walk was a large indicator of the great swimmer he would become. He tells of how he would go with his dad over to reefs into depths of 60 feet or more with snorkel masks and see the magnificent world underneath. When he turned 10, his dad pushed him to join the Saipan Swim Club, even though he said he was more comfortable in open water when he “surfed and spear fished about a mile off the coast.”  He joined despite his reservations. Swimming at the club was a tool to stay in shape until he turned 13, when he started to swim competitively. His first meet was the Tokyo Junior Sprint – a competition of 2,000 swimmers  from ages 8 thought 15.  From a pool in the middle of a jungle, Staal and two close friends  traveled to a state of the art swimming facility in one of the greatest cities in the world. There he won silver medals for the 50 meter breastroke and 50 meter freestyle, and a bronze in the 100 meter individual medley. He had his eyes opened to the world of swimming and started to even train harder after that. He then competed in the Japan Open 2010, FINA World Champs in Rome, Italy, Guam Championships 2009-2011, and the Micronesian Games held in Palau, which is in the far-western portion of the Caroline Islands. At the World Champs, held in Rome, he had a life changing experience.  He was able to meet Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, two of the greatest USA Swimmers alive today. He says that he was grateful to meet them and to understand how much dedication and effort can truly yield great rewards and results.

Even after competing around the world, and meeting Olympic athletes, Staal is a humble character. Last year he decided to move to Ashland in order to open his horizons. He felt that he was too limited on the small island of Saipan. He wanted to see what the “real” world would be like. His grandparents offered for him to move in and he took the opportunity, knowing that  senior year as a new kid in a new continent would be tough. Staal also knew swimming would allow him to make friends and find common ground (or, water) with other athletes.

However,  under the OSAA rule 8.6, designed to prohibit schools from recruiting athletes, he has been restricted from playing.  Because his parents are in a different district (actually, continent) from him, they could not sign off on the ruling. Staal sent this ruling to appeal in September, in hope that he will be able to play in the later section of fall, winter and spring sports at AHS. Staal would like to personally thank Karl Kemper for the help he has put in to helping his cause.  He has his fingers crossed, hoping that the appeal will go through and he will become eligible in time for the later Water Polo season, and most definitely by Winter Swim. Even if he doesn’t become eligible he plans to continue to participate in the practice of these sports,  for no one will keep him out of the water and away from his friends.

Ashland is a new experience that he has embarked upon, and he finds Ashland High School “amazing” in both the people he has met and the friends he has made. In Saipan, everything he knew about American school came from movies and TV shows. Whether or not he becomes eligible, he has learned to “to take things as they come, be in the present moment, and try and see the positive side of every situation.”