Kamehameha freshman Taylor Sullivan doesn’t need to go far to find a bit of inspiration. She can just walk into her uncle Bully Fergerstrom’s old room, and look at either an athletic or academic achievement on the wall that brightens her day.
Sullivan lives with her grandparents Victor and Gayle Fergerstrom, parents of Bully, a 2002 Hawaii Preparatory Academy graduate, who lived by his dad’s motto, “It’s not the size of someone, but the size of the heart that counts,” during his sports career.
Bully, who works for Big Island Mechanical and was known for his toughness in football, baseball and basketball, modified that motto to “Nothing is impossible.”
That gene of hard work and determination has been passed to another generation.
Sullivan, who lives in Waimea, started playing baseball at 4 years old and eight years later had grandma Gayle drive her to Honokaa, where she took up basketball, softball and track and field.
She qualified for Hershey’s Track & Field Games for the third consecutive year, and placed runner-up for the softball throw for the third time, with a distance of 163 feet, 2 inches, about 10 feet behind the winner in the 13-14 age division, at the August event in Hershey, Pa.
Sullivan was awarded the annual scholarship for college, $2,000 for her freshman year. It’s the first time in nearly four decades that the scholarship went to a Hawaii participant.
The scholarship is based on leadership, character, sportsmanship and athletic performance. Sullivan finished second, and with a field of 450 competitors thought she was a long shot for the scholarship.
“During the four days, they evaluate the athletes,” Sullivan said. “It felt really good. I was more thrilled than being second place.”
A funny or not-so-funny thing happened on the way to Pennsylvania. Sullivan has a fruit stand in front of her house to help with expenses. Grandma Gayle accidentally hit her hand with a rake.
It didn’t affect Sullivan’s performance, but it gave grandma a good scare. Both also developed a deeper appreciation for the kindness of strangers because the fruit stand operates on an honor system. There’s a collection box at the stand with no cashier.
If someone takes fruit without paying for it, Sullivan has a big-picture perspective. She would rather give something to someone in need. In fact she came up with her own motto, “If one person takes something for granted, someone else is praying for it.”
Sullivan describes her grandma as “not a normal grandma,” someone who sits at home and knits wool sweaters, and bakes cookies. They’re more like traveling buddies, swapping stories and influencing each other in one way or another.
“I sometimes feel like the roles are switched and I’m the kid,” Gayle joked. “She’ll tell me what I need to do and what not to do.”
Sullivan wakes up early to catch the 5:45 a.m. school bus to Kamehameha. But grandma still drives to Hilo four times during the week for pick-ups after practice.
Her van turned into a taxi during the summer.
Sullivan played with the Waiakea Pirates, coached by Derek Lincoln, whose daughter Kiarra is a Kamehameha sophomore second baseman. She also was on coach Shane Alani’s Sweet Spots 18-and-under select team, and his Westside Little League team in Kona.
She’s also on the Hawaii Diamonds Sports Academy of Oahu softball team, coached by former UH-Hilo standout Kanani Numata. The team traveled to Oregon during the summer for a college exposure camp and other tournaments.
Previously, she played basketball on Kamehameha’s middle school team, coached by Earl Kalawaia, and played for several years with coach Kevin Yamasaki’s team in Honokaa.
During middle school, Sullivan set the record for shot put and discus. So if a softball scholarship is not in the works, she’s got options. Or she could strive for an academic scholarship; she currently has a 3.97 grade-point average.
After HPA, Bully Fergerstrom had a baseball scholarship to the University of Hawaii. But he had a change of heart, and decided to walk on to the football team, then coached by June Jones.
Fergerstrom was 5 feet, 10 inches and 175 pounds. His mom was worried that her son would get crushed by gridiron giants.
When he made the team, she flew down to see him practice, and barely recognized him. Fergerstrom had packed on 25 pounds of muscle. One day, they drove to Hanauma Bay, and he pointed to a hill he ran daily.
Mom pleaded, cajoled and finally convinced her son to take his shirt off for a picture to send to the elder Victor Fergerstrom. The picture still hangs on the family wall, as a reminder of the product of hard work and determination.
A little later her son showed another side of himself that was surprising. UH was at Waikoloa, and Bully told his parents to drop by. When they got there, people started congratulating them.
Gayle didn’t know what was going on. Then Jones spilled the beans. He had three scholarships available, and Bully Fergerstrom earned a full ride for four years, and graduated in 2006.
“I look at Taylor as a second chance. I’m grateful that Bully never gave up on himself,” said Gayle, who drove to Hilo on Saturday for an interview. “That’s why I’m going to do everything extra for her. Wherever I have to drive, I’ll go. That picture is such a good lesson to believe in yourself.
“Like Bully, Taylor is hard on herself in academics and athletics. I’ve told her the only challenge is yourself, if you can look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day, that you’re satisfied, contributed or helped someone. My husband is retired but he’s a hard worker. He can work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Bully is a hard worker. Her mom (Kandi Miranda) is a hard worker. Taylor’s the same way.”