Swim Bits – In the Doing of the Thing 1


The Three Year Swim ClubOne swimming book everyone should read this summer is The Three-Year Swim Club, by Julie Checkoway.  It is about swimmers on Maui before WWII who started training in a sugar field irrigation ditch.  The coach, Soichi Sakamoto, wanted a three year commitment from the kids, thus the name of the team, and he got more than that.  He ended up with world records, individual and team national championships, and finally one Olympic gold medal winner in 1948.

Sakamoto was far ahead of his time in his workouts’ length and focus.  His swimmers beat almost everyone, but we have not heard much about Keo Nakama, Sakamoto’s best swimmer, Halo Hirose, or Bill Smith, the Olympic champion, as there were no Olympic games in 1940, due to the war, and most of Sakamoto’s teams’ exploits were forgotten because of the war.

There is still a swim meet run in Hawaii named after Keo Nakama, and, as a personal note, I found online in the 1960 meet sheet, two Hawaiian swimmers I knew, Larry Oshiro and Mack Hirayama, who swam on the University of Oregon Swimming Team in the 1960s.  Cf. https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/46117102/1960-keo-nakama-invitational-hawaii-swimming

Both Larry and Mack swam for Don Van Rossen.  In the early 1960s Oregon had a plethora of Hawaiians and Australians on the swim team, including Bill Chambers, and Arthur Thompson, teammates of mine.

When I finished The Three Year Swim Club I browsed the index, wondering if there was anyone there I knew.  I was surprised and pleased to find Mac Nakano as one of Sakamoto’s last swimmers.  Mac coached the Eugene Swim and Tennis Club in the 1960s, and at an age group meet one Sunday between the heats and finals, he went to his motel to rest and never woke up.

The Columbia Basin League, a collection of age group teams in Oregon which no longer exists, always had a minute of silence in Mack’s memory before meets and meetings.  It was a nice memorial for Mac.  Maybe we need to start it again.

The Emerald MileAnother book I can recommend immensely to water enthusiasts is The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko, subtitled “The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.”  It’s the story of three guys who ran the Colorado in 1983 from the put-in below the Glen Canyon Dam to the Grand Wash Cliffs.  They made the trip in less than two days in a dory, modeled originally after a McKenzie River white-water fishing boat.

The record set by the Emerald Mile, the name of the boat, has been twice broken this year in kayaks.  You will find a good story on both record runs in the Spring 2016 issue of “Canoe and Kayak.”

One of the inspirations for the runs was Buzz Holmstrom, a native of Coquille, who was the first person ever to run the Colorado single-handed from Green River to Hoover Dam.  His story is told in The Doing of the Thing, by Vince Welch.  It was a marvelous feat (not possible now with all of the dams on the Colorado), and the story is tragic as Holmstrom had trouble afterwards from the accolades he received.

Holmstrom’s comment, though, as he was looking at Hoover Dam at the end of this first solo Colorado trip, is appropriate for anyone on or in the water.  Looking ahead, he said, “I find I have already had my reward, in the doing of the thing.”


Leave a Reply to Julie Checkoway Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

One thought on “Swim Bits – In the Doing of the Thing