The Three-Year Swim Club
The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory
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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 and were malnourished and barefoot. They 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.
*Includes Reading Group Guide*
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
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.