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Keo Nakama, Maui swimming legend, dead at 91
September 18, 2011 - Robert Collias
Here is the start of an oustanding obituary on a Maui sports legend, Keo Nakama, by Ilima Loomis:
Hawaii swimming legend and former world-record holder Keo Nakama, who got his start swimming against the current in a Puunene irrigation ditch, died Sept. 8 at St. Francis Hospice in Honolulu. He was 91.
Nakama was an original member - and a breakout star - of the historic Three Year Swimming Club founded by Maui swim coach Soichi Sakamoto. He swam to national and international championships as a teenager with the team, set the world speed record for swimming the mile at 22, and at age 41 became the first person to swim the Kaiwi Channel from Molokai to Oahu. He was inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1975.
In addition to overcoming his humble plantation origins and physical limitations - at around 5 feet 5 inches tall, he stood a head shorter than most of his competitors - Nakama sometimes faced racial prejudice both at home and on the Mainland.
"He was a pioneer in swimming, especially in Hawaii," said Reid Yamamoto, head coach of the Maui High School swim team and of the Hawaii Swim Club.
Services will be held Sept. 30 at Diamond Head Mortuary in Honolulu, with visitation at 5 p.m. and services at 6 p.m.
Nakama was born May 21, 1920, in Puunene.
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