Alan Suemori
Commentary
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

There is a hauntingly telling interlude in Julie Checkoway’s second book, “The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids,” that captures all at once the complexity and mystery of Soichi Sakamoto, the legendary Maui-born nisei, who some consider the greatest American swimming coach of his era. As Sakamoto grew more successful, he became increasingly inaccessible and distant from his family, driven by a voice to achieve perfection in the water that only he could hear. In the darkness of their Wailuku home, his wife, Mary Po‘opa‘a Sakamoto, was often awakened in the middle of the night by the ghostly sight of her husband sitting in the darkness, bathed in the faint glow of the light of his movie projector, advancing and reversing through the celluloid images of his swimmers churning through endless laps in faraway pools around the world. It was as if Sakamoto could only find peace in the sanctuary of his imagination, detached from the reality of the everyday life that swirled around him.

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