Back to the Past

Ron Nakata, an East County dentist and Masters swimmer, is looking forward to swimming in Japan

Ron Nakata, an East County dentist and Masters swimmer, is looking forward to swimming in Japan

Ron Nakata shared this article, which was written by Joyce as he was preparing to attend the World Masters Swimming Meet in Japan.

Meet’s site a stroke of luck for swimmer
by Joyce Wydrizinski
Correspondent, The Oregonian 1986

For years, Ron Nakata has dreamed of someday tracing his family’s roots back to the land of his ancestors.

Someday has (now) arrived for the 47-year-old East County dentist.

Nakata leaves Wednesday for Tokyo with a dozen other Masters swimmers from Oregon and Washington to compete in the first World Masters Swimming Championships.

“This is going to be the biggest swimming meet of my life and the high point of my swimming career,” Nakata said.  “I have always wanted to compete against Japanese swimmers just to see how well I could do against people of my own race.”

An avid water-lover as a youngster, Nakata began swimming competitively as a teen-ager at the Aero Club in downtown Portland.

He continued his swimming career during four years at the University of Oregon, where he earned an impressive collection of medals and ribbons.  However, Nakata’s interest in competitive swimming waned when he entered dental school and discovered that most of his time would be spent studying.

Nakata devoted a large part of the next 20 years to building his East County dental practice.  He didn’t take the plunge back into competitive swimming until finding out about the Masters swim program.

“I have always been a very competitive person, and when I heard about the Masters program it seemed like an excellent way to get back into shape,” said Nakata.  “Swimming is one of the best ways of keeping fit.”

He learned last year that the first World Masters swim meet would be conducted in Tokyo.  For Nakata, it was the opportunity he had been searching for to travel to the country of his ancestors and his mother’s birth.

Nakata, a member of the Mt. Hood Masters swim team, began a rigorous training schedule at the Oregon Athletic Club pool, where he swam 2,500 yards of breaststroke, freestyle, backstroke and butterfly seven times a week.

About 6,000 swimmers are expected to participate in the five-day meet, which means Nakata could be competing against as many as 350 swimmers in his 45-49-year-old age group.  He will compete in nine events.

While Nakata wouldn’t mind coming home with a medal in any of the nine events, he says he would be just as pleased to record personal-best times in his events and place among the top 10 finishers.

A good performance, he said, also will be especially pleasing to his mother, Ikuko, and his wife, Wanda, who will accompany Nakata to the meet in Japan.

While in Japan, Nakata and his wife plan to spend several days in Osaka after the competition getting better acquainted with the dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins he has heard about but never met.

“This is going to be a very special time. . .” said Nakata.


Epilogue: written in March, 2022, by Ron Nakata

Back in those days, my best event was 200 IM, in which I came in 6th at this meet.  I don’t remember swimming other events, but must have.  I did not medal.  Japan is a sports crazy country and there were thousands of swimmers.  Hi school students came to the meet and acted as cheerleaders, I’m sure cheering for everyone.  It was really cool.  There had to be at least 5,000 entrants, since it was the first World Masters meet.  One of the Japanese swimmers was having a cigarette in the locker room between events.  Interesting.  I guess back then, smoking was a big deal for them.  After the meet, Wanda (wife) and I went to Osaka to visit my dad’s brother and his wife and daughter whom we had never met.  What a great experience!  My Mom was there with us for a while before returning home.  She helped us by translating the language.  My main focus, besides swimming, was to soak in as much of the culture as I could, and visiting unmet relatives.

Bert Petersen’s memories of the World Masters meet in Japan

“Tokyo was a blast!  We have many happy memories from there.  Like how I won the 100m fly by 0.2 seconds, why I got left on the block in the 50 and still came in third, expensive umbrellas, warm milk…and I could go on.

“The 50 fly was on the first day.  Bleachers were across the ends of the pool and the heats were staged in the bleachers,” Bert recalls.  He told himself that if he didn’t win the 50 fly, he would sprint the 100 fly; if he didn’t win the 100 fly he would sprint the 200 fly.

On Bert’s 50 fly, “take your mark” was said in Japanese.  That caught Bert off-guard, so he was late getting off the block.  Yet he came in 3rd.

Then for the 100 fly he was seeded in the lane next to the Japanese man who had won the 50 fly.

Bert thought to himself that the Japanese man probably would not be able to hold out on the 100 fly, so imagined he would win.  However, during the 100 fly he noticed that the man was staying right with him.  At the end of the race, Bert put his head down, sprinted, and didn’t breathe the rest of the way to the finish.  He won the 100 fly by 0.2 second!

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