Merrie Monarch Festival: Miss Aloha Hula candidate overcomes huge challenge to compete

Merrie Monarch Festival: Miss Aloha Hula candidate overcomes huge challenge to compete

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are so many women who invest their lives, hearts and spirits to hula -- yet, very few are selected by their kumu to represent their halau on the Merrie Monarch stage, and even fewer get the chance to be called Miss Aloha Hula.

It's an incredible journey for anyone who gets the opportunity, but it's even more remarkable for one of the 11 ladies who will be competing for the title this year because she was barely able to walk a year ago -- let alone dance.

"It's a journey that I hoped for and now I'm on it."

But this is not the way 25-year-old Noelani Dudoit of Ka La 'Onohi Mai o Ha'eha'e imagined it would be.

In 2013, she won Miss Hula 'Oni E.  A month later, she and her two friends got into a life-threatening accident on Molokai.

"When I look at pictures of the truck, I'm just thankful to be alive.  God granted me a second chance at life.  It's really horrifying to look back at that day.  Every day I just wake up and I'm grateful and thankful for being here," she said.

Noe spent two and a half weeks in the hospital.

"I fractured my leg.  All my bones shattered in my right leg.  My left forearm was all shattered.  Now I stand with a rod -- a long rod inside of my leg, my right leg -- with 15 screws and a plate in my left arm with nine screws," described Noelani.

Noe traveled with her halau to Hilo last year -- but she wasn't on stage when Ka La 'Onohi Mai o Ha'eha'e placed first overall in the wahine division -- after taking the top prize in kahiko and second in 'auana.

"Not being up there physically with them really broke me down a lot 'cause I love to dance and it was really tough," Noe explained.

Her hula sister, Kealohilani Serrao, won Miss Aloha Hula last year.

"To get from where she was physically, emotionally, spiritually at the time of her accident to where she is now -- I'm just really proud of her.  The fact that she's gotten to this point, just to have this opportunity, 'cause I know it wasn't easy.  She's worked really hard," said Serrao.

"I eventually went from the wheelchair into crutches, into learning how to walk on my own and eventually walking and now jogging and back dancing hula," Noe explained.  "There may be a rod in my leg, but I don't let it make me feel different.  The emotion is still there, movement is still there."

Kumu Tracie Lopes, who won herself 21 years ago, says she's incredibly proud of the challenges Noehas overcome.

"Beyond a title and beyond an award -- just by Noe being on stage is a testament to her strength and her trust," said Kumu Lopes, who leads the halau with her husband Keawe.

"She has this face that gleams.  I think she has the best personality when she dances, without even trying.  When she steps on that stage it's also going to be a celebration of her exuberance and her contagious laugh.  I think she'll just make everybody smile."

Noe's kahiko honors Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha the III, who she discovered she's related to during her mele research.  Her 'auana, "Nani Halawa" pays tribute to Moloka'i, where her 'ohana is from. 

Noe says she didn't think she would ever walk again, let alone get a chance to compete for Miss Aloha Hula at Merrie Monarch, but after eight months of rehab and countless more hours of practice she says she's ready for the biggest competition of her life.
"I pushed and I pushed and it brought me to this space with my hula sisters and back in the line and my kumu's had faith in me and faith in God -- that God would work everything, and that's exactly what is happening," said Noelani with a smile.  

"If they don't call my name I'd still be thankful, I'm blessed either way," Noelani said. 
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