1959, I was 8 years old. I had taken swimming lessons for a year or so at Central YMCA. I wanted to join the swimming team there because my older brother was swimming.
My mom knew the coach there and introduced me to him. "His birthday is the same day as yours", she said. "May 21st."
The beginning of my swimming career was a blur. Coach Nakama was teaching us the butterfly with a breaststroke kick one week (Orthodox Breaststroke), then the next week he taught us the dolphin kick. Then we could mix up the dolphin and breast kick, then we couldn't do anything but the fly kick. Flip turn with butterfly. Touch the wall on your free turn, then we didn't have to touch the wall. If that wasn't confusing enough, I had to stay out of my brothers way in the water. He would push off into me or swim right over me. Coach Nakama, meanwhile, was very patient, knowledgeable and fair.
My first trip with the swimming team took us to the Island of Kauai. Coach Nakama had a big meeting with the swimmers and parents. Something was said about selling cookies and sending postcards to all the people that we sold cookies to, to let them know how we did at the swimming meet. He was a caring coach.
I don't remember the swim meet specifically, but I do remember waking up early to find Coach cooking breakfast for 30 - 40 of us swimmers ! Bacon & eggs. He must've been cooking since 4:00 AM.
Coach taught us how to play water polo. "Look out for Coach's daughters Karen & Kaycee, they got long nails," some one yelled.
Speaking of daughters, Coach has six of them. Karen, Kaycee, Terry, Joey, Lynn and Jamie. Counting his wife, that's seven women and just him. My mom always told Coach if he wanted a boy she would give me away. "No way, not a house full of girls!" I changed my perspective as I got older.
Coach really cared. At a swim meet at Palama Settlement, he lined up all 30 swimmers, and gave us all a fast and brisk massage to limber us up for the event. " If any thing, this will help your swim, keep loose", he said.
From Central Y Swim Club we changed our name to Waikiki Athletic Club. I think WAC , sponsored us in our swimming program.
Then a strange thing happened. Coach started running around the Central "Y" field. Around and around. When he got off the field he told us that he had already swam 5-6,000 kilometers in the morning. Wow!!!
Shortly there after, he announced to the team that he was going to swim the Molokai Channel.. This came shortly after Greta Andersen tried unsuccessfully to swim the channel, twice.
I remember going down to Ala Moana shopping center and watching Ms. Anderson swim back and forth in a portable swimming pool. ( I remember when there was no Ala Moana shopping center, and only a heap of coral.)
At a point of time before the 1961 Molokai crossing, Mr Ida and Mr Richards (parents turned assistant coaches) took over the team to free up Coach Nakama's personal training time. Coach was getting more intense now. We would see him running longer around the track and do a swim workout twice a day.
The day Coach swam the channel, I was glued to the radio. The swim seemed to be going ok, then in the late afternoon, the radio announcer said that "Keo was having trouble in the water" speculation was he would be pulled out and equated his efforts to Greata Andersen's failed attempts.
Then Coach Nakama made a Herculean effort to finish the swim. We were down at Hanauma Bay with what seemed like hundreds and thousands of people. They were lined up along the walkway and the parking lots were overflowing. "Wow, mom, how are we going to see Coach come in?"
The swim team had a banner congratulating Coach. Some of the swimmers met, but we never saw him. Later that evening, we all did get to see him come in, on the television!
As a swimmer, that was pretty much the last time I saw Coach Nakama. Then there was talk of folding up the club and how we would be farmed out to our "Parent" club... Hawaii Swimming Club.
"My swimming coach, was Coach Sakamoto", Coach Nakama said. "He taught me how to swim fast and he can help you". "I would like all of you to swim for him and represent Hawaii Swimming Club."
Aside from coaching at Farrington and Leilehua High School he was the coach at McKinley High School. McKinley High School, under his direction, won the Territorial Championships over Kaimuki High School, by a few points he said. But we were his only age group team he had ever coached.
My brief experience with Coach is one I'll cherish forever!
He was a guiding light for me and showed me how to persevere. How to set goals and do my best to accomplish them. He gave me a chance to be successful.
I still call him Coach.