The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story Of The Sugar Ditch Kids And Their Quest For Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway
Soichi Sakamoto was a man with a dream: to train up a team of underprivileged Maui kids into Olympic swimmers. This was the 1930s, when such visions were lofty enough at the best of times. Add to that the fact Sakamoto had no coaching experience; in fact he couldn’t even swim, and that the irrigation ditches of Maui’s sugar cane fields would double up as training pools - but none of that stopped the Three-Year Swim Club (3YSC) from eventually making a splash on the international swim scene.
Their triumphs overcame far, far greater adversities than those early practicalities however, and this is what makes their story - one which author Julie Checkoway was moved to save from remaining a little-known legend - relevant beyond the pool of swimming and sports history fans.
It’s also a beautifully narrated record of life at a time of immense racial prejudice and inequality, global conflict which threatened and postponed not only training regimes and the Games themselves, but the very lives of multiple members of the team, and an awe-inspiring reminder of how shared dreams - specifically Olympic dreams - have the power to alter destinies and unite nations.
After seeking permission of remaining living members of the 3YSC, Checkoway had a challenge on her hands gathering up pieces of a jigsaw that, in places, was scattered by scarce records and interruptions including the Second World War. She apologises at the end of the book for any ‘glaring flaws’ and ‘oversights’ - if these do exist, however, the easy flow of her prose and respect for her subjects more than make up for it. A truly rewarding read.