Multisport athlete Hayato Tsujii comes from a line of athletes who understand the work it takes to succeed. Ranked in Japan, his parents were professional windsurfers, who pushed him to embrace the hard work it takes to succeed at any level.
“Coming from that, they told me ‘if you are young, you can achieve anything you want, you just have to work for it,’” said the St. Paul Christian School graduate. Armed with that lesson, he’s put his nose to the grindstone and pushed himself in all aspects of his life.
Academically, he was ranked in the top 10 for his class all four years of high school, earning him acceptance to several colleges, including Washington State University, Gonzaga, University of Portland and Portland State. He chose Gonzaga because of its exceptional computer engineering program – the first of many steps toward his dream career in engineering and, hopefully, living the life he envisions in Hawaii.
While challenging himself academically, he held several school leadership positions, all while competing as a Warrior in cross-country, basketball, volleyball and soccer. As a member of the Warriors, he earned more than his fair share of team accolades in basketball and cross-country.
“Hayato was an integral piece to our first cross-country championship run,” said cross-country coach Sherwin Paet, adding Tsujii, who preferred basketball, had no intention of joining the team.
However, Paet challenged the young Tsujii to run the Liberation Mile, where he popped an impressive time of 5 minutes and 26 seconds.
“Right then and there, I knew that I had to have him part of our program,” Paet said.
With a “work ethic that was second to none”, Paet said he was sure Tsujii would become a key runner in the budding Warrior program.
The Warriors are a basketball powerhouse, known for cranking out wins and accumulating championships. On the court, Tsujii wasn't the go-to guy, nor was he the guy who dropped 30 on the night. Tsujii was known more for being a strong role player, who grinds it out in the background. And, usually, if a team went to sleep on him is usually when Tsujiii would pick up the slack, getting the job done when no one was looking.
A huge NBA fan, Tsujii says basketball is his favorite sport, loving the relatability and difficulty of the sport. Listing his team accolades and his international competition, Tsujii says he probably could have accomplished more if he worked harder.
Neil Pineda, his basketball coach, said Tsujii is “an all-around student-athlete who takes his talents to its fullest potential and that has translated into a successful and productive athletic career.”
More importantly, Pineda said, Tsujii is an outstanding student and an even better person.
“As a coach, I’m going to miss him for his leadership and positive attitude on and off the court,” Pineda added.
‘Practice is everything’
Tsujiii says playing sports has allowed him to understand and embrace the philosophy that “practice is everything," applying that lesson to everything he has worked for, he said.
When people complain that school is too hard, Tsujii is skeptical of their work ethic. “How are you supposed to understand when you put little to no effort,” he said. “Just like sports, you work hard and practice your craft to get better.”
That attitude has helped him improve his confidence in work and play, he said, “I noticed as you work hard and grind, you will build confidence.”
Looking back, he said, competing internationally in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Korea has opened the door to building confidence and independence and fostering friendships on and off the court that he will continue to treasure.
“Competing international is always fun; it’s always a different environment,” he said.
He credited his support network with his successes. "I would like to thank my parents, coach Neil and coach Juls, Uncle Romeo, Keisha, all my friends and mentors,” he said.