- Leo Klink, 17, leads his Kalani Falcons soccer team to a Hawaii state championship
- Amid the celebration, he learns devastating news about his mother's health
- Leo "is such an amazing role model," longtime coach says
For Leo Klink, the night was the payoff, the pinnacle, what you work most of your life for. It was the Hawaii state high school soccer championship, and Klink, a senior on the underdog Kalani Falcons, had state power Punahou in his sights.
It was halftime, tied 1-1, thanks to Klink's chip shot over the Punahou keeper.
In the stands on the night of February 9 were his proud parents, Paul and Hiroyo.
"We were having a blast," Paul Klink said later. "It was halftime. We'd just seen Leo make a goal. It was the happiest moment of our life."
If the Falcons could pull this off and win their first state championship, it would be thanks largely to Hiroyo. She was the one who introduced Leo, Kalani's star and last year's ESPN high school player of the year in Hawaii, to the sport when he was just 7. She was the one who spent hour after hour with Leo, working on his game when he needed to catch up with the other boys.
"I wasn't that good at soccer," Leo said, explaining that his playing time was limited to three-minute spurts so the better players could catch a quick rest.
So mom was there with support and encouragement.
"She helped me practice by myself at the park," Leo, 17, said. "My mom taught me about resiliency. And how you would get nowhere without having a good work ethic."
About 10 minutes into the second half, the game stopped and an ambulance was rushed onto the field. Leo and his teammates waited out the 10- to 15-minute delay before the ambulance rushed off.
Leo assumed it was a Punahou player who'd hurt his back earlier in the game.
When he saw that player back on the field five minutes after the game resumed, he figured the paramedics had made a wasted trip.
"I thought the ambulance just came for nothing," Leo said. "I thought the ambulance came and went to the hospital with no one in it."
Kalani coach Michael Ching knew differently. Hiroyo Klink was in that ambulance, and the last person she wanted to know that was Leo.
In the stands, Paul Klink had looked at his 52-year-old wife and spotted trouble.
"She looked at me and she said, 'I feel a little bit dizzy,' and I noticed her left arm and her left leg were dragging. And I just looked at her and I said, 'Smile.' She looked at me like I was nuts. She tried to smile, but the left side of her face didn't move."
Paul Klink had just recently read about the signs of a stroke. He called 911, over Hiroyo's protests.
"She was just getting mad. 'Don't call an ambulance; don't stop the game.' I'm like, 'You can be mad at me and try to live. I'm going to call the 911,' and I did," Paul Klink said.
But she was adamant that whatever was going on with her, Leo should stay on the field.
"It was the mom's wishes as soon as she went down, 'Do not tell Leo,' " Ching said.
The game resumed, and Punahou soon took a 2-1 lead.
"As Kalani Falcons, we don't give up," Leo said later. "We came back strong as usual."
When good things happen, Leo always says "we."
"He's the most unassuming star," says Aundrea Toner, one of Leo's longtime coaches. "If you were to ask him who are the best three kids on the team, he wouldn't even name himself."
But that wasn't one of three other players streaking around the Punahou defense for the tying goal. It was Leo. And, after the game went to overtime, and then penalty kicks, to decide the Hawaii state champion, that was Leo blasting the ball into the upper right corner of the net on Kalani's final shot for the deciding margin.
"I was crying because I was so happy," Leo said.
And then his coaches came over.
"I saw their faces and I knew something was wrong," Leo said.
"When coach told me about my mom then I just broke down with tears of sadness," Leo said. "I was happy and then I just got really, really depressed."
"It was tears of joy to utter heartbreak," Ching said.
Hiroyo Klink wanted her son to enjoy all that comes with a state championship in Hawaii, the trophy, the medals, the leis that are heaped around the winners' necks. But when Leo Klink's name was called, he wasn't there.
Things weren't looking good at the hospital, and Leo was rushed there. His mom was unconscious, but she'd gotten the news from the soccer field.
"The last thing she was told was that we won the state championship," Leo said.
Two days later, Hiroyo Klink died. Before that, Leo said he got to have one last word with the mother who had gone to every game, who had cooked meals for him and his teammates, who had recorded videos of him and made highlight reels and posted them on YouTube.
"I wanted her last thought of me to be that I loved her, and that I would be a good boy, and that I know she's going to look over me and that we're going to meet again someday," he said.
"Somebody asked me once, 'What's the best sound in the world? What's the worst sound in the world?'" Paul Klink, 48, said. "The best sound in the world is Leo's laugh, but the absolute worst sound in the world is him crying over his mom when she's dying."
Leo Klink takes solace in the fact that his mom leaves behind something beyond her husband and son. She was an organ donor.
"She's going to save five people's lives," Leo said. "And with her corneas people will see. It's her legacy."
Leo said he's going to do the same, that he will check the organ donor box on his driver's license.
And he'd like to go to college to study nursing and hopes to play soccer. He knows that would mean a lot to his mom and those around him.
"He brings me to tears," Toner said. "I know that he never asked to be a role model, but he is such an amazing role model."
Hiroyo Klink was the family's provider. Her husband has a congenital heart defect and is unable to work. Because her dream was for Leo to get a college education, friends have set up a fund to help that can be accessed at the Leo Klink Fund Facebook page.