Jo-Ana Kahaloa Suchanski (Roosevelt, 1991)
PIL Hall of Fame Members of the Month Jo-Ana Kahaloa Suchanski

Jo-Ana Kahaloa SuchanskiJo-Ana Kahaloa Suchanski

Jo-Ana Kahaloa Suchanski (Roosevelt, 1991)

November 2023 ~

Back when Jo-Ana Kahaloa Suchanski’s (Roosevelt, 1991) older brother Henry told her she couldn’t try out for the Roughrider High football team, little did she know that she would eventually wind up thanking him for being what some might consider not very brotherly.

After all, while Jo-Ana had played all manner of sports while growing up, from swimming and canoeing to running, football was her sport. It was kind of everyone’s sport in Hawaii, where she was born and lived until moving to Portland at age 12.

“It was the big thing in Hawaii, even for girls,” she says. “I played a lot of flag football with cousins and friends and neighbors.”

By the time she was in Portland and starting eighth grade at Oxley Green Middle School, Jo-Ana was ready to hit the ground running – literally. She ran for the school track team and played volleyball and basketball. As much as she loved competing, Jo-Ana loved the camaraderie and friendships she developed in the process.

“It wasn’t just playing sport that I loved, it was also the social aspect,” she says. “And sports represented kind of a getaway from a home environment that wasn’t the most pleasant.”

Before her freshman year in high school, Jo-Ana moved from the Jefferson High district, where Henry had played football, further north to the Roosevelt district, where he planned to continue playing the sport. But not with his younger sister.

“Football was really the sport I knew best, but he didn’t want me on the same field as him,” she says, without a trace of bitterness. “I’m thankful he did that. Because that redirected me to volleyball, which wound up being a sport that I enjoyed so very much.”

It was also one of the three sports Jo-Ana would excel at and, along with basketball and track and field, would earn a combined 12 letters playing. As a senior, she would also be named 1st Team All-PIL in volleyball and 2nd Team All-PIL in basketball, win the PIL discus championship and set Roosevelt records in the javelin, discus and shot put. And, in both her junior and senior years, she’d win the PIL javelin championship and be named team MVP.

While her accomplishments earned Jo-Ana entry into the PIL Hall of Fame in 2018, it is difficult to get her to recount memories of any individual achievements. But turn the subject to friendships or camaraderie or the influences of coaches or the positive impact of sports on her life and she speaks as freely and enthusiastically as she wrote in her online Hall of Fame bio at the time of her induction:

“I look back on my high school years in athletics with fondness and gratitude because of the strength of our team, the family-like relationship with my teammates and coaches, and the leadership skills I developed. This has resonated through my lifetime pursuits in education, career, hobbies, and family.”

Jo-Ana says being named to the Hall of Fame and attending the induction ceremony were honors, to be sure. But she speaks with equal enthusiasm about the event for the opportunity it presented her to reunite with two of her favorite coaches at Roosevelt, Karen Akers and Mike Weinstein.

“I hadn’t seen them for years, so it was very exciting to reconnect, and I’ve stayed connected with ‘Stein’ ever since,” she says.

As her volleyball coach, Jo-Ana says Akers essentially taught her the sport from scratch. “She was great. I really knew nothing about volleyball. But because I was tall (5’ 10”) and she was tall she took me under her wing, taught me all about the middle position and helped me be successful through my career.”

In her track coach, Weinstein, Jo-Ana found yet another wing under which she could learn and be inspired.

“Growing up I had always run, so I thought I was a runner when I joined the track team. But my body changed a little and I became a thrower,” she recalls. “I remember freshman year watching a javelin fly over the field for the first time and thinking, I want to do THAT! ‘Stein’ took me under his wing and really helped me with my discipline and work ethic and mental strength.”

The coach also had mad motivational skills, Jo-Ana adds.

“If you broke a personal record, he’d buy you a donut. Break a team record, he’d buy pizza. My senior year I ate a lot of pizza and a lot of donuts,” she says with a laugh “Because I grew up in Hawaii, he used to call me his Pineapple Princess. One day during my junior year, I walked into his history class and on my desk was a pineapple with three donuts stuck on its crown because I had broken three personal records.”

Jo-Ana also makes sure to mention her basketball coaches, first David Ferres, then John Brunecz. Of the latter, she says, “He was tough, and that was great, and basketball became a sport I was able to share with my son, Matthew. I made him start playing it when he was 5, and yes I said ‘made him’,” she adds laughing. “It’s our family sport. I was so fortunate that, in every sport I played, I had a coach that was such a positive influence.”

Jo-Ana graduated from Roosevelt thinking her time in competitive sports had come to an end. Then one day, while making sandwiches at a Subway in North Portland, a customer walked in and, somewhere between choosing his bread and vegetables, gave Jo-Ana a choice of her own.

“He saw that I was 5-10 and asked if I played volleyball,” she remembers. “When I said, ‘Yes,’ he told me he was the coach at Concordia College and invited me to play during an open-gym session. I did, and he offered me a scholarship. So, I didn’t get a scholarship offer in high school, but I got one making sandwiches.”

While playing for the volleyball team, Jo-Ana was also recruited to play for the Concordia women’s basketball team, which she did until tearing an ACL and effectively ending her sports career.

Entering college, Jo-Ana had planned to pursue a teaching degree.

“I originally thought I was going to be a teacher because of all the great experiences I had with teachers,” she says. “But over time I changed my mind. When I was 10, my mom had a diving accident in Hawaii a quadriplegic. We kind of bounced around from family to family because she couldn’t take care of us. I took care of her a lot, though, and that’s what made me think of becoming a nurse.”

Just two credits away from earning her college degree, Jo-Ana had a change of heart and left school to start a family with Paul. After spending several years doing just that, while living in Wilsonville and also doing some coaching (javelin at Roosevelt, volleyball at Madison and Wilsonville), she came to the realization her college credits were about to expire and decided it was time to finish her degree.

She applied to the University of Portland and as awarded a Providence Scholarship to attend nursing school. After “working off” her full ride at Providence Milwaukie Hospital for three years, Jo-Ana moved on to Newberg, then Texas before settling in Blackfoot, Idaho, where she directs nursing on the medical floor of the local hospital.

“We’ve really loved our time in Idaho,” she says over the sounds of what must be at least a dozen dogs barking in the background. “We’ve got 17 chickens, 10 dogs (a dozen wasn’t a bad guess) and a couple bunnies.”

A nurse for 13 years now, Jo-Ana and Paul are celebrating 26 years of marriage and getting ready for their son, Matthew’s wedding in 2024. As much as she loves Idaho, she plans to move “wherever Matthew is living whenever my first grandchild is born,” she says, sounding a lot like a mother who has already given her son a directive.

As it should be. Jo-Ana is the Pineapple Princess after all.

Do you know Jo-Ana Kahaloa Suchanski? If you’d like to reconnect, she can be reached at joanalou21@gmail.com

 

Jo-Ana and Paul Suchanksi

Jo-Ana and Paul Suchanksi

Jo-Ana and Paul Suchanksi

Jo-Ana and Paul Suchanksi

 


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