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Episode 25: The Olympic Swim Coach Who Never Swam with Kristina Kuzmic

podcast Aug 31, 2021

In this episode, Sharon tells Kristina Kuzmic the story of Soichi Sakamoto, a man from Hawaii who became an Olympic swim coach when he didn’t even know how to swim himself. After teaching his boy scout troop to swim, Soichi set out on a new life’s mission: to coach Olympic swimmers. He started the Three Year Swim Club, promising his students that they would be world-class swimmers within three years. His swim club was made up of impoverished children, many of whom did not have bathing suits or enough food to sustain them through practice. As well, because he didn’t have access to a pool, Soichi resorted to teaching his first students in the water-filled ditches of Hawaiian sugar plantations. Despite the many challenges, Soichi did whatever it took to raise up Olympic athletes - from feeding them his own meals to inventing new ways to train his swimmers. This is the story of Coach Soichi Sakamoto and his journey to the 1948 Olympics. 

Link to Full Episode:

This Episode Will Teach You:

  • Soichi Sakamoto’s experiences in Hawaii during the early 1900s
  • How a man who didn’t know how to swim became an Olympic swim coach 
  • How Soichi trained impoverished children to be Olympic athletes 
  • How Soichi revolutionized conditioning and training for swimmers 
  • The role Soichi’s wife played on the team 
  • The lasting impression Soichi left on Hawaii and the swimming community 

3 Biggest Takeaways:

  • From the mid 1800s to 1924, Hawaii experienced explosive growth as immigrants from Asia and all over the world moved to the U.S territory. Soichi Sakamoto was born in 1906 and moved to Hawaii from Japan with his mother. He married a wife (after only three days of knowing her), and became a science teacher and boy scout leader. Though he could not swim himself and had only read pamphlets about swimming, he taught the boy scouts of his troop to swim. From that day on, Soichi set a new life mission for himself: train Olympic swimmers. 
  • In 1937, Soichi formed the Three Year Swim Club, a group of mostly impoverished children who wanted to train to become world-class swimmers. Because he lacked a pool and the ocean was unsafe, Soichi resorted to hosting his swim practice in the water-filled ditches of sugar plantations. Soichi revolutionized swim conditioning and training; his students trained onland and against the current of the water to strengthen their muscles. By 1939, only two years into his swim club experiment, he developed internationally recognized athletes. 
  • His students were invited to the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, however the games were cancelled because of WWII. Mainland athletes began to move to Hawaii just to be trained by Soichi, and he went on to serve as the University of Hawaii head swim coach for several decades. In 1948, Soichi was the United States assistant swim coach in the Olympics, and he got to see one of his students, Bill Smith, take home a medal. Soichi was 91 years old when he passed away and is still revered as one of the greatest swim coaches of all time. 

About the Guest:

Kristina Kuzmic is a cheerleader for her fellow humans. With over one billion video views about juggling life’ challenges as a parent, Kristina is providing her audience with encouragement, hope and humor. She is currently touring the country with her “Hope & Humor” tour, and her first book, “Hold On, But Don’t Hold Still,” was released in February 2020.

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