KAHUKU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Deep in the heart of Kahuku, among a sea of voices echoing in the Red Raiders gymnasium, the Kahuku cheer team appear to be like any other squad.
But if you listen real close, there's something and someone very special, that stands out.
Standing a tiptoe...or two...shy of five feet tall, but filling every inch of the gym with a booming voice is Hoku Mariano.
"My favorite sports..." she tells me, with one of her signature grins. "I love cheer leading stuff and people cheering and stuff. i like it."
Hoku being Hoku, it's a common saying around a young lady who is anything but typical.
Born with down syndrome Hoku is now a senior in high school. No small accomplishment for a young lady that's been fighting an uphill battle since birth.
"I had a doctor (who) was telling me if i wanted to give her up," says Hoku's mother Selina. "I said no way. It's my child. I was blessed with her."
Admittedly, Selina says raising Hoku has not been easy. Along with Hoku's special needs, she still acts like every other teenage girl. So, when she asked her parents if she could tryout for the Kahuku cheer squad, Selina's initial response...
"Are you serious?" she says with a laugh.
After some thought, Selina and Hoku's step father Timmy Pinto, decided Hoku could pursue her dream, but only if she tried out like anyone else. No special treatment would be given to their daughter.
Kahuku cheer coach Kawai Ahquin couldn't hide her enthusiasm enough.
"This is a great opportunity," said Ahquin. "If I can take that and run with it and she can be a part of us. The community gives great support behind us."
Hoku's been a rousing success ever since.
"She always just sets the tone for us," says teammate Rachel Kawakami. "(Hoku) makes us excited and happy to cheer and be there."
Her father proudly admits, "Hoku has more spirit than I'll ever have."
"Just to see that smile on her face. day to day, walking in school. Watching her participate. it all comes together. It's the spirit that lays within her."
As the old saying goes, sports can reveal character, and on a regular basis, Hoku reveals the character of those around her. Starting with Timmy, who admittedly, was heading down a dark road in life until he met a girl that would alter that path.
"Hoku was the first person I met in this family. She came running and jumped into my arms. I look at it as faith, as something that was meant to be. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't be who I am today.
The same can be said by her extended family... her teammates.
"She has a really good heart and really cares for all of us," Siobhan Cooper tells me. "Making sure we're ok."
Fighting back tears, Morgan-Melissa Muaina says of Hoku, "She's a really big part of our cheer leading family and she's like a sister to me."
A senior in high school, this will be Hoku's final season cheering for the Red Raiders... as a student at least.
The prospect of not having Hoku on the field is unimaginable for cheerleader coach Luella Muaina. "I don't know that we'd be a squad without Hoku there."
Pinto can't imagine a day when her daughter's passion for Kahuku sports will ever come to an end.
"Whether she's on the field or in the stands she'll always be there. We'll be there with her."
It's a promise Hoku intends to keep because...
"I want to be a part of it...it's perfect."