Row on Sundays, or You Don’t Row at All

Kainoa rowing Hamish Burton Photography
Photo credit: Hamish Burton Photography

“The coach put it to me pretty simply,” Kainoa said, “Either you row on Sundays, or you don’t row at all. I chose not at all.”

Though it was hard to walk away from the team where his fellow rowers went on to win multiple gold medals, Kainoa hasn’t looked back.

For Kainoa, the decision not to play sport on Sunday had been made while in Primary. This personal decision was his sign to the Lord that he did indeed love the sabbath.

Really it was an easy choice to make because I’d already made it long ago.

As a teenager, Kainoa Lepou showed great promise as a rower. He belonged to a top rowing program and was one of the strongest performers. The only problem was, all the finals were held on Sundays and he was not willing to give up the sabbath.

Kainoa didn’t have to wait long to see the blessings of this choice; the Lord had prepared an even greater opportunity.

“Leaving the rowing team gave me more time to focus on basketball,” he said. “I might have lost the chance to row but that same year I was selected to be in the New Zealand U16 Boys’ team, which was a huge blessing. I know I’ll be all good if I do what God asks of me.”

This year, Kainoa’s commitment to the sabbath has been especially challenging as he played for three big teams simultaneously:

New Zealand U17s

Auckland U19s, and

His high school senior premier team at Rosmini College.

“It’s a huge commitment,” Kainoa said. “I usually don’t go a day without training, sometimes multiple times a day. Well, every day except Sunday.”

Though still very young, Kainoa continues to see the promised blessings of his commitment, with understanding coaches, big wins and the occasional miracle.

“This year I was blessed to go to the FIBA World [Cup] Champs with the New Zealand team,” he said. “Our Rosmini team went to Nationals and ended up winning. There have been so many blessings!”

At the FIBA World Cup championships, missing Sunday games was particularly difficult for Kainoa and his team because one of the last games was on Sunday.

“It was hard but, as always, I saw God bless me for choosing not to play,” he said. “One time, at the worlds, I got really sick just before a game and barely made it to warm-ups. I asked my dad for a blessing and ended up being the top scorer for our team that game. There have just been so many blessings.”

As well as keeping the sabbath day holy, Kainoa has also made serving a full-time mission a priority, knowing that when he serves he will be blessed.

“Not a lot of universities want to give scholarships to guys who are going to take two years off in the middle but, I made the choice long ago to serve a mission and I’m not afraid to stick to that. If you put the Lord first, He will take care of the rest of your life. That’s what I live by.”

Kainoa shooting a free throw
Kainoa on the court
Kainoa with his family, holding a trophy