[Kid time days]
Keo Nakama (actually Kiyoshi) and I grew up together. We started swimming from around age 3 or 4. He was a prankster too, a Kodomo Taisho who never got caught. I was not so lucky. He was a natural athlete, the best in any sport we played. He was quarterback in barefoot football, shortstop in baseball, forward in basketball (I was standing guard). We always won in the Maui community/school competitions. Except, one year Haiku beat us in barefoot football. They had a good team. Keo had that something special that few ever have. Even before Roger Bannister's famous One-Mile Run when they said he went beyond human endurance, Keo was already doing it.
Pachi Tsukano used to keep us all in stitches, He was Johnny's older brother and a very good storyteller. He was also a good music composer; he wrote the words for the 3YSC song. That's the song we all used to sing: Swim, swim for 3YSC, da da da da......, to the Ole Notre Dame Fight tune. Pachi was his nickname, and he was always fun to have around.
One year there was a steamship strike and we had gone to Honolulu to swim in a meet. There were about 30 of us from Maui and we stayed in Honolulu at the downtown YMCA, (now the Hemmiter Center building). It used to be known as the Army-Navy YMCA then. In the rooms, they had these big white towels with a fancy Army-Navy YMCA logo in the middle. We were only kids then and never saw such towels that were so perfect for drying down after swimming. After the swim meet, we had to catch a fishing boat from Kaneohe (instead of a regular passenger steamship from Honolulu Harbor). It was really rough waters in the open ocean and it took us a long time to reach Maui. We all got seasick and when we finally made it back to Maui, we landed in Lahaina. Mr. E.L Damkroger was waiting for us there. We were surprised to see him and wondered why he was there. Well, when we got off the boat, he made us open our suitcases. When we opened our suitcases, there were the souvenir towels we borrowed. Damkroger had gotten a long-distance call from Honolulu to retrieve the towels.
[This incident recalls Dawn Fraser at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This Aussie, one of the greatest swimmers ever, led a midnight raid to "borrow a souvenir flag" from the Emperor's Palace. She was arrested but charges dropped and the Emperor graciously gave her the flag as a gift. The Australian Swimming Union, nevertheless, punished her. But later, she was elected to the Parliament of New South Wales. Although Halo and his swim mates didn't get their gifts, Halo, became our top probation officer and some of the others got elected to high political posts as well.]
People say and write that swimming was our ticket out of the plantations, to go to college. That was what motivated us. But when we were in the water swimming, things like that never crossed our minds. We just swam and had fun until Coach came along. Then it was hard work every day.
There's this well-known picture of our national record breaking relay team from Puunene - Keo Nakama, Jose Balmores, Bunny Nakama and me. Not much is said about where we lived except that we came from Puunene. Actually, the four of us lived as neighbors in Camp 5. That's something really unusual. Four guys living as neighbors, making a relay team and breaking the national record. I don't think anything like that has ever happened before even to this day.
In the beginning he just watched over us. Then he gradually got us started us into a simple training routine, swimming hard going up against the current and easy, mostly floating, coming back down. E.L. Damkroger was the Sports Director for the Alexander House Community Association and he and Coach used to always get into little verbal battles. Somehow Coach always seemed to get his way. Actually Damkroger was a very good organizer and he also helped us a lot. There was only one pool at that time and it was at the Puunene Athletic Club. We weren't allowed to swim in it.
Coach was a genius. One summer two college students who were swimming for the University of Hawaii swim team came home for the summer. Coach made a challenge to have us - Keo and me - swim against them. And he made sure the plantation bosses would be there as fans. Keo was only a freshman in high school and I was still in 8th grade. But we trained very hard to win. When the time came for the big event, we gave it all we had and beat them right in front of everybody including the big bosses. Then, they built the second pool for us. It was better than the Puunene Athletic Club pool, which was wavy and choppy.
Coach was very colorful. He did so many things besides coaching. He played the guitar, composed music, wrote poetry using old English lettering, and etc. Lots of people helped him. Mike Ginoza used to come to the pool every day to help out. Takeyo Shibuya was always there too. He had many other supporters from the community - guys like Iwao Miyake, Lippy Espinda, Ralph Yempuku, and others who helped him with fund raising. But, he was also very demanding and even they found it hard to keep up with him.
I remember one of the songs Coach composed. It goes Aloha Hawaii, Aloha to you, Aloha from my heart means I love you, ...la la la ... night at Waikiki. I can't recall all the words, but it was beautiful. One time, I sang that song to Palani Vaughn, the famous musician who looks like Kamehameha. He thought it was great. Another one that Coach wrote went like this: Beneath the Hawaiian skies... la la la... They're all so nostalgic, they should be background music to Bill Brown's movie. Coach was the first Nisei that was more Hawaiian than Japanese. He even married a Hawaiian women against his parents wishes. And Missus (that's what we called her) was really the backbone of Coach. She made so many sacrifices for him; she handled so many of his problems, he really depended on her so much. In the end, when she got sick, he gave up coaching and devoted his full time taking care of her.
I was in Japan when Chris Conybeare did the "Coach" video. But, there are more photos of me than anybody else in the video. That's because most of the shots they used were mine. Sono, my daughter, loaned them out and I never got them back. I called them a couple of times but they were never returned. Some pictures I took in Rome.
[Do you know about Coach's family?]
I went to Italy and ended up in the hospital with dysentery.
I think I ate too many green apricots or something. Anyway I
was in the hospital and one day this major came to see me and
said "You must be an important person, Division Headquarters
want to see you." So I got dressed and his jeep took me
up there. When I got there, Captain Kometani was there, and he
told me that they had made a call for all swimmers to sign up
for the Allied Olympics in Rome. There were lots of guys who
signed up, including Johnny Tsukano and Charlie Oda. But, there
were also some other guys from Hawaii that had no competitive
swimming experience. Anyway, we all went to Rome for 45 days
and had a great time. There's Stars & Stripes article written
about the event. Charlie Oda showed me a copy of it.
I went to the University of Hawaii and took courses like Hawaiian Language and Survey Methods. After a year or so I took the Yale test and did very poorly. My IQ was alright but they said I was "Academically Retarded." They recommended me for a Prep Academy in Pennsylvania. But, I was 22 years old already and I couldn't go back to prep school just to get into Yale. You ever heard of Alan Ford? He was a great world record holder. We roomed together for a few days at one time. He told me it was no sense to go back to prep school, because it would take me about 2-3 years to make up what I didn't learn in high school. It would be too late to swim in college by then. So, I tried Ohio State University. They accepted me but wouldn't give me credit for the courses I took at the UH. My UH record was only good enough for a freshman, so I had to start over again. I was 2-3 weeks late.
[Swimming at the UH]
[Hitch hiking from Columbus, Ohio] I was in school at Ohio State University and summer was coming up. Coach called me back to Hawaii to swim in some meets. With my good friend, Don Coolahan, we hitch hiked all the way to the West Coast and I came back to Hawaii with him. Don was from Ohio, a big guy, around 6'5" and 240 lbs. He was supposed to play football for OSU but he injured himself. He had a bum knee and so he turned to swimming. He had to maintain his athletic scholarship because he came from a poor family and couldn't pay his tuition otherwise. He was one of my best friends at OSU and kept me honest. He eventually became a doctor. He's dead now and I miss him. Anyway, I instigated all kinds of things like that, we had parties and did other crazy things.
[Other Coaches and Swimmers]