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The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory
     

The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory

4.7 3
by Julie Checkoway
 

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Now in paperback: the New York Times bestselling inspirational story of impoverished children who transformed themselves into world-class swimmers.

In 1937, a schoolteacher on the island of Maui challenged a group of poverty-stricken sugar plantation kids to swim upstream against the current of their circumstance. The

Overview

Now in paperback: the New York Times bestselling inspirational story of impoverished children who transformed themselves into world-class swimmers.

In 1937, a schoolteacher on the island of Maui challenged a group of poverty-stricken sugar plantation kids to swim upstream against the current of their circumstance. The goal? To become Olympians.

They faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The children were Japanese-American, were malnourished and barefoot and had no pool; they trained in the filthy irrigation ditches that snaked down from the mountains into the sugarcane fields. Their future was in those same fields, working alongside their parents in virtual slavery, known not by their names but by numbered tags that hung around their necks. Their teacher, Soichi Sakamoto, was an ordinary man whose swimming ability didn't extend much beyond treading water.

In spite of everything, including the virulent anti-Japanese sentiment of the late 1930s, in their first year the children outraced Olympic athletes twice their size; in their second year, they were national and international champs, shattering American and world records and making headlines from L.A. to Nazi Germany. In their third year, they'd be declared the greatest swimmers in the world, but they'd also face their greatest obstacle: the dawning of a world war and the cancellation of the Games. Still, on the battlefield, they'd become the 20th century's most celebrated heroes, and in 1948, they'd have one last chance for Olympic glory.

They were the Three-Year Swim Club. This is their story.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A brightly told story of the triumph of underdogs... exuberant, well-researched...tense, vivid, and inspiring."—Kirkus Reviews"

If the basis for the book doesn't sound amazing enough, how the story unfolds—Japan vying for the Olympic games, Pearl Harbor being bombed, WWII changing the world forever—allows the story and characters to evolve in uplifting and heartbreaking ways...it is evident that Checkoway's ability to set a scene is uncanny and accomplished...Depicting determination, discrimination, hope, anguish, hard work, and hard choices, Checkoway has created a sports history that is singular in its own right, and a fitting testament to the over 200 youths who swam for many reasons toward one goal: 'Olympics First! Olympics Always.'"—Publishers Weekly (starred review)"

Remarkable real-life account...about as underdog as it gets."—Boston Globe"

An inspiring true tale of grit and determination... Checkoway skillfully weaves vivid scenes into a larger narrative with a varied cast of characters to create a stirring, though exhaustive, account ...Pair this with The Boys in the Boat."—Booklist"

This story of one (at first) seemingly unremarkable man and his effect on camp children and the world of swimming is both inconceivable and dazzling. You won't want to miss it."—Book Reporter"

This captivating nonfiction, featuring engaging individuals and portraying a tumultuous time in history, chronicles Hawaii's second golden age of swimming. Sports and history enthusiasts will enjoy this title as much as book clubs and general readers."—Library Journal"

Checkoway carefully weaves together facts into a sweeping historical tapestry."—The Salt Lake Tribune"

Checkoway's story of youthful perseverance will earn a place on the shelf with The Boys in the Boat."—The National Book Review"

Save the story she has, through exhaustive research and sparkling prose."—BookPage"

[A] reverent tale...Through meticulous research, Checkoway brings crisp focus to a fuzzy time in American history...The book carries hints of The Boys in the Boat...Checkoway stays true to her salvage mission. She unearths characters flawed and fetching and shines an unflinching light on race and class...glorious storytelling and a triumphant, unpredictable finish."—Minneapolis Star Tribune"

Shows that sometimes all you need to start something epic is a dream."—Bustle"

Checkoway takes on an incredible story of overcoming obstacles and defying the odds...poignant."—Swimming World Magazine"

This story of one (at first) seemingly unremarkable man and his effect on camp children and the world of swimming is both inconceivable and dazzling. You won't want to miss it."—Book Reporter"

A good and graceful writer."—Honolulu Magazine"

A made-for-the-screen story."—Outside Magazine"

Exceptionally well-researched and well-written."—ESPN.com"

A wild, improbable story that makes for popular Hollywood movies but rarely happens in real life. But this story's real."—Maui Time"

This true story is entertaining and absorbing and good for the soul."—Sunset Magazine"

A classic underdog story...Had [Checkoway] not written this book, their exact story might have never been told, but instead, American swimming's most fascinating chapter gets the shine it deserves."—Deadspin"

Lively, at times history reading more dramatic than fiction...surprises wait in both the pool and in the story of these remarkable characters."—Petoskey News

Publishers Weekly
★ 11/09/2015
This rags-to-riches story revolves around school teacher Soichi Sakamoto, who took a group of Japanese-American children from a poor, segregated Hawaiian sugar plantation and taught them how to be champion swimmers, practicing in one of the plantation's fetid irrigation ditches. If the basis for the book doesn't sound amazing enough, how the story unfolds—Japan vying for the Olympic games, Pearl Harbor being bombed, WWII changing the world forever—allows the story and characters to evolve in uplifting and heartbreaking ways. Debut author Checkoway is equal to the task of telling this moving narrative. From page one, where she writes "Lip-locking lovers perambulated... and holiday makers gathered... under Maxfield Parrish skies," it is evident that Checkoway's ability to set a scene is uncanny and accomplished. Her top-notch skill as a researcher allows her to bring to life the long-forgotten saga of the swim team, which she fears might otherwise "simply disappear." Depicting determination, discrimination, hope, anguish, hard work, and hard choices, Checkoway has created a sports history that is singular in its own right, and a fitting testament to the over 200 youths who swam for many reasons toward one goal: "Olympics First! Olympics Always."(Oct.)
Library Journal
10/01/2015
It's 1937 and Tokyo is campaigning to host the 1940 summer Olympics. Meanwhile, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the children of sugar plantation workers are causing mayhem in the irrigation ditches. Checkoway (Creating Fiction; Little Sister) tells the astonishing journey of a schoolteacher who, with no prior knowledge of swimming or coaching, started a swim team for these children with the goal of making it to the Olympics. Guided by Coach Sakamoto, whose approach to swimming was both radical and tyrannical, the dream incredibly starts to become a reality. Members of the Three-Year Swim Club, as they are called, travel to the U.S. mainland, win national competitions, and are invited to international ones. As world events take a tragic turn, it becomes a long, frustrating wait as Olympics after Olympics is canceled. What place will swimming play in the lives of Coach Sakamoto and his swimmers as time passes, and will anyone be competition-ready when the games resume? VERDICT This captivating nonfiction, featuring engaging individuals and portraying a tumultuous time in history, chronicles Hawaii's second golden age of swimming. Sports and history enthusiasts will enjoy this title as much as book clubs and general readers.—Zebulin Evelhoch, Central Washington Univ. Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
2015-09-02
A brightly told story of the triumph of underdogs. In 1937, Soichi Sakamoto formed the Three-Year Swim Club, whose members were children of workers living on a Hawaiian sugar plantation. Sakamoto, a teacher who could hardly swim, had seen them frolicking in a dirty, shallow ditch and made a proposition: "Three years of discipline. Three years of sacrifice. Three years of nothing except swimming" would yield great results. If they worked hard and cared enough, he was certain they could become members of the United States men's swim team at the 1940 Olympic Games, to be held in Tokyo. Filmmaker, journalist, and nonfiction writer Checkoway (Little Sister: Searching for the Shadow World of Chinese Women, 1996, etc.) fashions the story of the tireless Sakamoto and his eager swimmers into an exuberant, well-researched, if sometimes overly detailed celebration of unlikely champions. As a coach, Sakamoto combined encouragement—he learned the power of positive thinking from Norman Vincent Peale—with intense attention to stroke technique and training regimens. With the help of former Olympians and enthusiastic sportswriters, he publicized his team and raised money to send them around the world to compete, and they performed astoundingly well. His star, Keo Nakama, for example, swam against 1,100 competitors in Sydney, Australia, coming in first in every race. Not surprisingly, where money and fame were at stake, rivals emerged. One in particular tried to wrest control of the team from Sakamoto, criticizing his methods and manipulating himself into a position of power. But Sakamoto persisted, even when the 1940 Olympics were cancelled after Japan invaded China and subsequent games were scratched because of war. Not until 1948 did members of the team—men as well as women—compete in the Olympics, proving themselves champions. Details about training, swim times, and the team's travels occasionally overwhelm Checkoway's tense, vivid, and inspiring narrative. Not without its flaws, but a good choice for fans of David Halberstam's The Amateurs (1985), Daniel Boyne's The Red Rose Crew (2000), and similar books.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781455523450
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
06/21/2016
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
70,503
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.12(d)

Meet the Author

Julie Checkoway is an author and documentary filmmaker. A graduate of Harvard, the Iowa Writers Workshop, and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, she is also the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts individual artist grant and a Yaddo fellowship. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salt Lake Tribune, and Huffington Post.

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The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
gaele 8 months ago
The skill with which Checkoway brings this story to light is nothing short of marvelous. Perfect for fans of The Boys in the Boat, this story telling of the forgotten “Sugar Ditch Kids” who went from poverty and strife in the sugar plantations of Maui, overcoming obstacles that few dare to challenge today. Maui of the 1930’s was a giant sugar plantation, worked by Japanese-Americans and hotbeds of great poverty and struggle. A teacher hired by the plantation, Soichi Sakamoto, saw and demanded more of these underprivileged and unknown children, and soon had them swimming and beating Olympic calibre racers. Add to this, the virulent anti-Japanese sentiment that only worsened after the advent of Pearl Harbor and World War II and this testament to the power of determination and a goal. While their story may have been lost to time, Julie Checkoway uses powerful visual descriptions, historical research and actual accounts to tell a story that should be shouted from the rooftops. From dirty irrigation ditches to the prospect of the 1940 Olympic Games cancelled because of World War II, through the War, detainment in camps and even performance above and beyond the norm on the battlefield, the Sugar Ditch Kids survived and found a calling within themselves to keep moving forward. While it’s easy to feel that the historical detail overwhelms, the skill with which Checkoway uses detail, imagination and empathy to bring this story to light is nothing short of marvelous. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im the grand daughter of a 3YSC member, how i wish my grandma was still here to tell us more stories and to see how accurate this book os with her memories. I met Bill Smith when my grandma was inducted into the hawaii swimming hall of fame... I knew he was a legend by my grandmas stories, but wow, what an honor to have met him. This book shows so much history of Hawaii and the island of Maui.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago