Looking back to pay it forward, Kamalani Dung pitches in for Hawaii’s hungry communities.
Professional softball player Kamalani Dung has experienced many highs and lows in her 23 years of life, and she’s grateful for each and every one of them. Kamalani has traveled the globe playing the game she first learned at the age of 10, living out her dreams while enjoying the world’s different cultures and all that they have to offer.
But life wasn’t always this wonderful.
“All of us hit low points in our lives, and that’s the important story I’d like to tell,” reflects Kamalani. “I’ve experienced rock bottom, but I’ve learned — it’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
Kamalani and her siblings grew up in a humble home in Wai‘anae with their parents Honey and Lance. The couple worked hard to give their children a good life, including agood education. Kamalani was accepted into Kamehameha Schools as a kindergartner. Her daily routine included a 4 a.m. wake-up call and a two-hour bus ride to school.
“My childhood was awesome. At the time, I didn’t really realize what was happening; as far I knew, life was good,” says Kamalani. “We didn’t mind eating saimin for dinner or lunch. We shared what we had and didn’t think twice about it. It’s only when I looked back and saw how fortunate other people were did I realize things were different at our home.”
Life really changed at home when Kamalani entered high school. Her parents separated, and her mom encountered health challenges. The hardships and adversities intensified.
“There were times when we slept in our car. There were times when we relied on other people for food, money, shelter and a living room floor to lay on. But those moments — they made me the person I am today,” says Kamalani. “I come from a place of being grateful for all of the small things that a lot of people take for granted. Those times were terrible, but — even when we were hungry or didn’t have a place to sleep — we smiled through it all.”
Softball was Kamalani’s outlet, and she was darn good at it. While she credits her father for teaching her the game, she admits she also learned to pitch watching YouTube videos. Kamalani was a four-year varsity starter and captain at Kamehameha, where she led the team to three championships. College coaches started calling her the “YouTube” pitcher after learning she was self-taught.
Kamalani signed with Fresno State and went on to lead the Bulldogs to a Mountain West Conference Championship as a true freshman. The following year, she was named the Mountain West Pitcher of the Year and was an All-Mountain West First Team selection after winning 26 games with 218 strikeouts.
Her success continued in 2017, when the hard-throwing right-hander transferred to Cal Berkeley, where she won 19 games in her first season with the Bears — including the first perfect game of her career.
Kamalani battled injuries during the first half of her senior season but still ranked 10th in the Top 25 Names in College Softball. The Puerto Rican Women’s National Softball Team eventually extended an invite to join them, and Kamalani responded by leading the team to its first gold medal at the Central American Games in more than 20 years.
In 2020, Kamalani signed to play professionally with National Pro Fast Pitch’s Los Angeles-based California Commotion. She also signed on to take part in Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural softball season.
Then, COVID-19 hit — but Kamalani and Athletes Unlimited hit back.
After a summer that saw the cancellation of most sports events, Athletes Unlimited’s innovative softball league model enabled players and teams to compete safely at Chicago’s Ballpark at Rosemont.
For Kamalani, the added spotlight presented an opportunity to demonstrate more than just her athletic prowess. Understanding her responsibility to make a difference, Kamalani saw it her kuleana to provide a voice for those suffering with hunger back home.
“Since I have a voice, it’s important that I use it and let as many people know there’s always a way — and you’re not alone,” says Kamalani. “I think it’s important for Hawaii organizations that are doing amazing work just like Hawaii Foodbank to be put on the national level. If I’m playing on ESPN and CBS Sports every weekend, why not showcase such an amazing organization like Hawaii Foodbank? They’re doing something that means so much to so many people, especially right now during the pandemic.”
Kamalani has taken it one step further by choosing to team with Hawaii Foodbank through the Athlete Causes initiative.
“At the end of the year, you partner with a charity of your choice,” explains Kamalani. “I’m getting a bonus depending on where I fall on the charts. However much my bonus is, Athletes Unlimited will match half of it and donate it to a charity of our choice. I chose Hawaii Foodbank. This is a full circle moment for me.”
Full circle. Because she’s been there. She’s lived it and seen it first-hand. For Kamalani, Hawaii Foodbank’s mission is personal.
“Someone once said, ‘Be the person you needed when you were younger,’” reflects Kamalani. “I’m going to carry that for life. It’s one of my favorite quotes, and I’ll always try to live up to it. I want to be the person that gave me the extra push that sent me in the right direction. Hopefully, I can do the same for many other Hawaii athletes and many other Hawaii families.”
Her message to those enduring the many challenges created by the global pandemic is one of hope and undeniable support.
“You may not have shelter over your head. You may not always have food in your pantry. But know — there’s always someone who is rooting for you,” says Kamalani. “I hope putting on display my support for organizations like Hawaii Foodbank will let young people and families know people are here to support you — no matter what your current situation is. Things will get better.”
The name Kamalani means royal or heavenly child. How very appropriate for this young professional athlete who is a true gift to the world from Hawaii.