Chad Ikei is a champion who now is in the business of producing champions. The former powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting champion is today a professional sports performance, fitness and conditioning coach, who trains young athletes to become champions.
As a youngster, Chad’s first love was football. In middle school, he played for the Pop Warner Kaimuki Eagles. But at 5’1” and just over 70 pounds, he wasn’t scaring any of his opponents. A wise Coach Boyd Iaea, who had a set of weights in his garage, invited his pint-sized lineman to come over and start lifting if he wanted to continue playing football. Chad accepted his coach’s offer and threw himself into weightlifting. Soon, he was impressing his teammates by bench pressing 140 pounds, twice his weight at the time.
In high school, he wanted to turn out for the football team, like his older brothers had done. His mother nixed the idea, however. She feared that the youngest and smallest of her three sons would get maimed or killed playing football. But Kaiser coach Bill Von Arnswaldt felt strongly that weightlifting was important in preventing sports injuries, so he took Chad under his wing. Powerlifting soon became Chad’s sport. By his senior year at Kaiser, he was setting powerlifting records and was known to be the “youngest and lightest athlete to bench press over 300 lbs.” He was 17 years old, 5’1” tall and weighed 112 pounds at the time.
Between 1989 and 1991, Chad set 21 national weightlifting records and eight powerlifting world records. He won 16 national weightlifting titles and captured the U.S. National Weightlifting Championship five times.
At one of the powerlifting meets, Chad met the legendary Tommy Kono, who suggested that he take up Olympic weightlifting. Powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting are similar in some respects, but there are differences. After graduating from Kaiser, Chad began training religiously under Kono at the Nuuanu YMCA.
In 1991, he was invited to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He had no idea at the time that he would spend the next decade of his life in Colorado.
Besides weightlifting, the Olympic Training Center boasts facilities for a multitude of sports, where more than 500 athletes and coaches train at one time. The center also includes a sports medicine and sports science center.
Chad thrived in that environment, training under head coach Dragomir Ciroslan and capturing the U.S. Olympic Festival Gold Medal three times.
The year 1996 was supposed to be Chad’s Olympic year. He had trained hard for a number of years leading up to the Olympics, doing everything he was supposed to do. But for some reason, he did not fare well at the trials. His failure left him devastated, but he maintained his faith in God, believing that maybe he had other plans for the Olympic hopeful. Sitting on the sidelines, watching the Olympics as an alternate, taught him to deal with his failure. Chad didn’t want to go out as a loser, so he resumed his training and continued to break more records, proving to himself that he could have and should have been in the Olympics.
While in Colorado Springs, he was drawn to the work of chiropractic sports physician Dr. P. Michael Leahy and his “Active Release Technique” program for dealing with soft tissue injuries. For a while, Chad considered becoming a chiropractor himself and began taking classes at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
But it was meeting Charles Poliquin, an internationally recognized strength and conditioning coach, that most impacted Chad. At the time, Poliquin was coaching some professional hockey players. Many of the top hockey players in the world had sought out Poliquin to improve their game. That was when Chad experienced his life-changing epiphany, realizing that he could live his passion as well as make a living at it.
At about the same time, he met his future wife and his greatest supporter, Racquel Dizon, from Guam. Racquel had accompanied her brother to Colorado Springs, where he was attending the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Chad began an internship with Poliquin in 1997 and soon became his trusted assistant, helping him with his athletes, most of whom, at that time, were NHL players. Working with Poliquin afforded Chad many opportunities: He traveled to Sweden with the Detroit Red Wings; worked with players from the St. Louis Blues; traveled to Canada, where hockey is the national sport; and thoroughly immersed himself in Poliquin’s teachings.
In 2001, Chad joined Poliquin in Phoenix, Ariz., where Poliquin opened a branch, attracting many professional sports teams — football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and others. Also, Arizona State University was in the area.
After a few years, Chad decided to branch out on his own. He started Ikei Performance, a sports and fitness training center that began attracting numerous professional, college and high school athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Most of the Polynesian athletes began turning to him, often staying at his home while training in Phoenix.
Chad enjoyed his 10 years in Arizona, coaching, motivating and training young athletes.
Then, few years ago, his father became gravely ill. Chad decided to return home to support his family and give his children — a son and four daughters — the opportunity to grow up in Hawai‘i, where he had grown up. He also felt that maybe he could use his expertise to help local athletes.
He’s always had a passion for competing and for being the best. Now his passion is to share that passion for strength and conditioning with his athletes.
Chad runs his business from a modest building located near the Mänoa Chinese Cemetery. It’s filled with all sorts of training equipment. Chad is busy working with athletes from 6:30 in the morning. At this time of the year, most of his clients are football players. Some have to gain weight; others have to lose weight, but all need to get stronger, quicker and faster.
Last year, he worked with Kaiser High School football coach Rich Miano. This year, he spends a few hours every afternoon with a youth football team. He and his brother Jarrett work with Rockwell Fukino with the Honolulu branch of the Hawaii Athletic League of Scholars, a football team made up of middle school kids from six schools. HALOS was organized a few years ago for kids who could not play in the Pop Warner League due to weight limitations. Rockwell makes sure the kids maintain their grades, Jarrett handles the football part, and Chad works on their fitness and conditioning.
Chad also has his hands full with his own children’s sports activities. They’re all into sports of one kind or another. His son Chance is a champion wrestler at Kaiser. Chance is lucky to have a father who is a top-of-the-line trainer and coach. During his sophomore year, he was the 2013 state champion at 113 pounds, proving once again that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Dr. Michael Okihiro is a retired Honolulu neurologist and a self-professed “baseball nut.”