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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 obstac 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*


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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 obstac 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*

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    To think if it had not been for the curiosity, perseverance and skill of Julie Checkoway, I would never have experienced, nor known about this hiccup of history. I’m not a die hard sports fan of any sort, rarely watch either the Winter or Summer Olympics, don’t know the athletes by name but there is something that draws me to stories like The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory, in which a group of young people, from poor, hard-wor To think if it had not been for the curiosity, perseverance and skill of Julie Checkoway, I would never have experienced, nor known about this hiccup of history. I’m not a die hard sports fan of any sort, rarely watch either the Winter or Summer Olympics, don’t know the athletes by name but there is something that draws me to stories like The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory, in which a group of young people, from poor, hard-working families, with no special equipment or skills, can rise to a challenge. Who are these kids? Did they succeed? Why did the author want to tell their story? And always important for me, who did they then become? Ms. Checkoway answers my questions in this well researched, fascinating, easy to read narrative From the dedication to the very last page, Checkoway held me captive. Right from the beginning she sets the stage with an overview and description of Maui, and its fertile land, once consisting of 30,000 acres of sugarcane, home to 80,000 persons living in “13 segregated labor camps in a village called Pu’unene.” Today, only one sugar plantation remains; easily identified by the landmark of the two remaining smokestacks. Checkoway allows me to see it then and to see it now. She resurrects an inkling of a story that had almost disappeared and gives it life. It was 1932 when a schoolteacher, Soichi Sakamoto, a man not able to swim himself, teaches a group of under-privileged Japanese-American camp kids to swim, not in a fancy pool, but in the plantation’s dirty irrigation ditch. Imagine this. She vividly describes what she first sees when she visits the deteriorated property. As she contemplates a wall of signs, a minor remembrance of the past she thinks: ” The plantation owns those signs, but who, I wondered owned the disappearing story that, in part, they tell? The story of the teacher and the children lives now in so few places: on that weather-beaten wall, in scrapbooks filled with photographs. History isn’t a sculptured cup; it’s more like a sieve through which so many stories pass and disappear.” Checkoway makes me understand the urgency to record these stories, to create a written history of this spirited group of teens. Many were old and some had already passed away. There are stories within stories to be told. I want to share so many with you but then there would be no need for you to read this yourself. Checkoway focuses on a few key boys and one girl, but also weaves in the story of many others. There are the swimmers, their parents, Sakomoto, his wife and daughters, the benefactors, those who believed and those who didn’t that it was possible for these kids to win, not only in small meets, but Olympic Gold. There is the quest to somehow bring these under-weight, under-nourished, ramshackle kids in hand-me-down swimsuits, to the 1940 Summer Games, only to have that hope crushed by the outbreak of World War II. The interruption of the war, the internment of many Japanese-Americans, the financial and subtle political barriers tried but could not dampen the spirit of Sakamoto and his kids. I was absorbed by the unique style of training Sakamoto used, one that was grueling and required a firm three year commitment by the kids. I was amazed that some of his boys trained sailors to swim during the war when it was realized that "fifty percent of the Navy couldn’t swim." I can picture these children, their bony, shivering bodies leaving the water, without even a towel to dry off with or to keep them warm. I can see the wonder on their faces as they journeyed from their home to far away places in the world, by ship, rail, buses and even air. I can feel their pride in their accomplishments. I am impressed by their sheer will and determination to stick with the program. I can feel their sorrow when Pearl Harbor is bombed and they are no longer seen as the Americans they are. I can cheer them on as some finally make it to the 1948 Olympics to represent America. Checkoway humbly credits her book, not to her passion to write it, ”but because so many people have been so largehearted in helping me find my way in doing so.” We are the lucky recipients of her quest to not let this story be forgotten. Don’t miss this. Julie Checkoway has written a winner in every sense of the word.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laura Harrison

    Incredible! I read this book in one evening. Shocking, riveting and truly inspirational. I liked it much better than Unbroken-a must read!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I went to an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) book meeting at a local book store, The Curious Iguana, last month and was invited to select a couple of ARC's to read and review for the store. They had numerous titles to select from - many authors had received early buzz from the publisher. I chose Colum McCann's "Thirteen Ways of Looking" and this selection to read. I loved that the book, "The Three-Year Swim Club" was promoted as similar to "The Boys in the Boat" which I had recently read and loved. A I went to an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) book meeting at a local book store, The Curious Iguana, last month and was invited to select a couple of ARC's to read and review for the store. They had numerous titles to select from - many authors had received early buzz from the publisher. I chose Colum McCann's "Thirteen Ways of Looking" and this selection to read. I loved that the book, "The Three-Year Swim Club" was promoted as similar to "The Boys in the Boat" which I had recently read and loved. And, I am a former lifeguard & swimmer. So, this seemed like a natural choice for a book that would hold my interest. This thoughtfully told true story depicts the unusual beginnings of an Olympic swim team on the Hawaiian islands, specifically Maui in the late 1930's. Minority, impoverished children were recruited by a local science teacher/boy scout leader to form a commitment to a 3 year swim club. Their coach, Soichi Sakamoto, had no prior coaching experience and limited swimming capabilities himself. The children trained in ditches in the beginning years. Slowly, their skills evolved and Sakamoto began using interval training and observing technique for the various swim strokes, filming opposition at meets. The 3 year swim club began to win meets and set records. The coach began to dream of competing nationally and eventually attending the Olympics. How this team fared in competitions, how the students were treated when visiting the mainland in the US, how the second World War affected the young potential Olympians and how the Hawaiian swim team ultimately fared at the 1948 Olympics in a post war London really does make for an interesting, inspirational story. I did enjoy this portion of Hawaiian and swimming/Olympic history that I previously knew little about. However, compared to "The Boys in the Boat" I was simply not as captivated. It is a personal preference probably, but I love to immerse myself in a story when there is a central character that I am really invested in. I cared so deeply about Joe Rantz and his rowing success that I was propelled through that novel to find out what would happen to Joe and his family following his momentous competition. While I did care about Sakamoto, I wasn't as caught up in his story because the author included so little personal history and there were so many changing characters throughout the book. 3.5 stars for me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christina Dudley

    A good, solid read for history and Olympic sports buffs. Having been recently to Maui for a swim meet, this had me reaching for the road atlas and Googling places to see what still could be seen. I knew nothing of Maui's "ditch swimmers," their unlikely coach Soichi Sakamoto, or the Three-Year Swim Club's storied legacy. The passages about discrimination the Japanese-American and mixed-race Hawaiian swimmers faced, and the effects of WWII on the members of the community were well covered. As a me A good, solid read for history and Olympic sports buffs. Having been recently to Maui for a swim meet, this had me reaching for the road atlas and Googling places to see what still could be seen. I knew nothing of Maui's "ditch swimmers," their unlikely coach Soichi Sakamoto, or the Three-Year Swim Club's storied legacy. The passages about discrimination the Japanese-American and mixed-race Hawaiian swimmers faced, and the effects of WWII on the members of the community were well covered. As a member of the swim subculture, I would've appreciated more discussion on how swimming in the 1930s and 1940s was different from today. The winning times are pretty slow by today's standards, with no explanation why this was the case. Discussion of strokes and techniques and venues is vague, often raising (unanswered) questions for me. One example: how do you swim a 220-yard race in a 25-yard pool? Why were there even now-unswum distances like 220- and 440- and 880-yard races? My son theorized that those distances might have approximated the meter distances, but I still didn't know how they swam them. And some pools were only 20 yards in length. In that case, how did they race 50s? Or did each pool only offer races for which the length was suitable, i.e., a 220-yard race in a 20-yard pool? Many more questions like that plagued me. While this book won't captivate my 14-year-old swimmer son the way GOLD IN THE WATER did (he read that one twice), it's a great introduction to a forgotten chapter of history. Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity to read this book. Because the edition was not finalized, there were a number of proofing errors that the final edit will probably clean up, like a race time being given in minutes and seconds, instead of seconds and tenths of seconds. (57 minutes would be a snail-like 100!) The author also says "mauna" means "toward the sea," but at the meet I was at, they used the word "makai" to mean toward the ocean (e.g., "the makai side of the pool").

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andy Miller

    The Three Year Swim Club tells of Soichi Sakamoto's decision in the 1930s to form a swim club in Maui consisting of kids of workers on the sugar plantations. The team started swimming in the irrigation ditches but Sakamoto adapted such as having his swimmers swim hard upstream and then turning around to rest while swimming downstream, one of the first examples of interval training. As the swim club progressed Sakamoto gained access to the pools and success. The story continues with the team's su The Three Year Swim Club tells of Soichi Sakamoto's decision in the 1930s to form a swim club in Maui consisting of kids of workers on the sugar plantations. The team started swimming in the irrigation ditches but Sakamoto adapted such as having his swimmers swim hard upstream and then turning around to rest while swimming downstream, one of the first examples of interval training. As the swim club progressed Sakamoto gained access to the pools and success. The story continues with the team's success as some of the swimmers qualify for the elite meets and win It was not an even path, as the Maui swimmers went to the mainland they encountered racial discrimination not experienced in their native Hawaii., though there were exceptions such as the friendliness and advocacy of swimmers from Stockton California during the national championship in Louisville. There is also resistance from both the Hawaii and national swimming establishments, including criticism of the strenuous and long swim workouts. An especially telling comparison was when some of the Maui swimmers joined college swim teams they found the workouts much easier and shorter. And of course there was the cruel end to the goal of every swimmer; the Olympics, when the games were cancelled in 1940. The story comes to an end shortly after success for one of Sakamoto's swimmers in the 1948 Olympics This well written true story balances the sport, the inspiration with the complexities of real people, the author does not shy away from the hard feelings between Sakamoto and one of his star swimmers nor the small town politics of those jealous of his success. This is a great read

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    As a fairly knowledgable sports fan I thought I knew most of the stories regarding the Olympics but when I first heard about this story it really piqued my curiosity. I first saw the book at my favorite bookstore in Lake Forest Park but saw that the author was going to have a presentation at the University bookstore in a few weeks so I waited to buy it so I could get a signed copy. And thank goodness I went. You can tell that the author put a lot of effort and research into the book. Having met As a fairly knowledgable sports fan I thought I knew most of the stories regarding the Olympics but when I first heard about this story it really piqued my curiosity. I first saw the book at my favorite bookstore in Lake Forest Park but saw that the author was going to have a presentation at the University bookstore in a few weeks so I waited to buy it so I could get a signed copy. And thank goodness I went. You can tell that the author put a lot of effort and research into the book. Having met some of the swimmers and their families, you could feel the emotional attachment she had to these swimmers as she almost teared up during the presentation. If you're into the history of swimming, innovative training techniques (aka interval training) and reading about making ordinary humans into Olympic caliber athletes then this definitely is the book for you. I would've preferred to have read more during each day but sometimes a busy life, vacation and holidays just gets in the way. For sure I wouldn't mind rereading this gem.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Note: I read an advance reader copy Interesting bit of little-known "shadow history" from Hawaii in the first half or so of the 20th century. Writing was a bit sloppy (several hackneyed phrases and awkwardness) but that might have been cleared up in the final edition that went to press. I got about one-third of the way through and my interest lagged so I decided not to finish Of interest to those who want to read about people succeeding against the odds, competitive swimming, or finding out more Note: I read an advance reader copy Interesting bit of little-known "shadow history" from Hawaii in the first half or so of the 20th century. Writing was a bit sloppy (several hackneyed phrases and awkwardness) but that might have been cleared up in the final edition that went to press. I got about one-third of the way through and my interest lagged so I decided not to finish Of interest to those who want to read about people succeeding against the odds, competitive swimming, or finding out more about the history of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rosa

    I picked this up at BEA this year and was really unsure about it. I was unsure of how I'd gotten it and was sure it would either lead to tears or boredom. While I admit to a couple of sniffles here and there about the unfairness of it all it was a pretty amazing story and well worth the read. I've always wondered about the 1940 and 1944 cancelled Olympic Games and this gives you insight into the hopefuls lives. It's also an amazing underdog tale. I picked this up at BEA this year and was really unsure about it. I was unsure of how I'd gotten it and was sure it would either lead to tears or boredom. While I admit to a couple of sniffles here and there about the unfairness of it all it was a pretty amazing story and well worth the read. I've always wondered about the 1940 and 1944 cancelled Olympic Games and this gives you insight into the hopefuls lives. It's also an amazing underdog tale.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Let me introduce this year's first book to make "my favorites list" on Goodreads.com, it is "The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and their Quest for Olympic Glory'" by Julie Checkoway. Overall I would rate this book five stars out of five. Where do I begin? Wow, what an amazing story! This book is a true story of a group of Japanese-American children and their coach. It is a story of a coach a Japanese-American who was trying to find himself and found himself i Let me introduce this year's first book to make "my favorites list" on Goodreads.com, it is "The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and their Quest for Olympic Glory'" by Julie Checkoway. Overall I would rate this book five stars out of five. Where do I begin? Wow, what an amazing story! This book is a true story of a group of Japanese-American children and their coach. It is a story of a coach a Japanese-American who was trying to find himself and found himself in a group of Japanese-American children. These children had nothing, they lived in poverty living as "slaves" on sugar plantations. The coach found a ditch and taught them how to swim. It is about the struggles during this fragile time period of World War II and particularly the struggles that of Japanese-Americans faced. It is a story of will, of never giving up. It is a story of strength and courage in the face of adversity. Before reading this book, honestly I did not know anything about it, and never mind not knowing that this story existed or happened in the first place. But boy, oh boy am I glad I read it. I am kicking myself in the butt that I didn't read this sooner, and wishing this book never ended. The way the author narrated this story was magical. Reading it, I felt as if I was there watching as a bystander the events that took place. I truly felt apart of this book and definitely connected to it from the first paragraphs. I almost want to go as far as to say that I wish they would make a movie out of this book. However, I am also weary of wishing for this, because hardly ever are the movies are as good as the book. And when this happens it leaves you disappointed, frustrated and upset, and I don't want to look back feeling this way. So as they say better safe than sorry. I would like to point out that for those people who shy away from reading nonfiction, I would highly consider reading this book. I would read it because of the way the author told the story. This is not your typical nonfiction book, you are going to be hooked from the very first word. I literally was holding my breath and sitting on the edge of my seat while reading this book. It was such an amazing story, I could not wait to turn the page to see what happened next. There are not too many books out there where it is difficult to find anything to critique. Reading this book took you on a journey of experiencing the full spectrum of emotions. And this book was a very pleasant change, since recently I have been reading books on the more depressing side. I would again highly recommend this book, for those of you who would like to purchase a copy of this book CLICK HERE. I would like to thank The Reading Room, Julie Checkoway, and Grand Central Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. Come and read my blog at http://turnthepagereviewsbyjill.blogs...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Spectacular! To coin a cliché, a real page-turner about the unlikely grooming of Olympic and near-Olympic swimmers from the 1930s to the 1948 Olympics with children from mostly poverty-stricken, uneducated Maui families where the parents picked sugar cane for a barely survivable living. The dream of their coach, Soichi Sakamoto, a regular schoolteacher who did not even normally teach swimming, was to train these kids to become professional swimmers - learning to swim in dirty, muddy sugar cane p Spectacular! To coin a cliché, a real page-turner about the unlikely grooming of Olympic and near-Olympic swimmers from the 1930s to the 1948 Olympics with children from mostly poverty-stricken, uneducated Maui families where the parents picked sugar cane for a barely survivable living. The dream of their coach, Soichi Sakamoto, a regular schoolteacher who did not even normally teach swimming, was to train these kids to become professional swimmers - learning to swim in dirty, muddy sugar cane plantation ditches. To do this, he required all the kid to sign a three-year contract in which they pledged just about all their available hours to rigorous swim practice for three years. The contract was filled with high-standard rules - one rule broken and the kid would be out of the club. The high standards governed all aspects of the kids' lives, including respect for and obedience to their parents. Many of the kids achieved high standards in international swim meets, for which their participation was paid for and sponsored. One particularly poignant scene described several of the then-teenaged kids' experience aboard a luxury cruise ship taking them to a swim meet abroad. A Maui fundraising drive paid for necessary essentials, such as clothing and luggage, and tutors trained them in etiquette they would be required to use. However, at dinner once aboard the ship, they realized that no one had realized that they did not know how to use regular table silverware such as knives and forks, because they were used to eating with their hands! Despite their embarrassment, they imitated the other esteemed guests at their table, and the lofty guests fortunately were so impressed by the teenagers' swimming accomplishments and an after-dinner ukulele serenade that their elementary manners did not become an issue. In the last book chapter, Julie Checkoway, the author describes her amazing research into the coach and the swimmers' lives. It is thorough and detailed. I obtained an advance copy in June 2015 from my cousins, independent booksellers, who acquired it then at the New York City book convention. Amazon has likened it on their website to Unbroken and Boys on the Boat. I would add Seabiscuit to that and consider the three books analogous. I also think it could make a great movie.

  11. 4 out of 5

    George

    INTERESTING. INFORMATIVE, AND INSPIRING. “Soichi Sakamoto had no good reason to do it, no right to, no knowledge of how to, but he called out to the children, nonetheless, “How ’bout I teach you something about swimming, eh?” (p. 54) The title’s awkward, the writing/editing often rough, and it’s packed with enough stats to make a statistician blanch. That said, Julie Chaeckoway’s ‘talk-story,’ non-fiction, The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Ol INTERESTING. INFORMATIVE, AND INSPIRING. “Soichi Sakamoto had no good reason to do it, no right to, no knowledge of how to, but he called out to the children, nonetheless, “How ’bout I teach you something about swimming, eh?” (p. 54) The title’s awkward, the writing/editing often rough, and it’s packed with enough stats to make a statistician blanch. That said, Julie Chaeckoway’s ‘talk-story,’ non-fiction, The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory, really is “the inspirational, untold story of impoverished children who transformed themselves into world-class swimmers.” (–from the goodreads synopsis). It also offers up many interesting asides and insights of some pretty amazing people, places, times and events. Recommendation: For those interested in human interest stories, nostalgia, history, and ethnic cultures. For competitive-swimming aficionados, too, of course. “…he’d had his coach’s dreams and his teammates’ unfinished quest in his fingertips that day. And because he did, those last ten yards, the excruciating distance between wishing and wanting, between hoping and achieving, were the greatest responsibility he had ever borne, and the roughest water he had ever had to cross.” (p. 342) Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition. 451 pages

  12. 4 out of 5

    SundayAtDusk

    Julie Checkoway does a most thorough job of telling the story of Soichi Sakamoto, a teacher on Maui in the 1930s, who started teaching kids to swim in a ditch, because they had no pool. They were the children of sugar cane workers, and Mr. Sakamoto had no experience whatsoever in teaching swimming. But he had high hopes and big dreams, and instilled the same in many of those children. What he and what his swimmers accomplished was nothing short of astounding, including Olympic wins in 1948. This Julie Checkoway does a most thorough job of telling the story of Soichi Sakamoto, a teacher on Maui in the 1930s, who started teaching kids to swim in a ditch, because they had no pool. They were the children of sugar cane workers, and Mr. Sakamoto had no experience whatsoever in teaching swimming. But he had high hopes and big dreams, and instilled the same in many of those children. What he and what his swimmers accomplished was nothing short of astounding, including Olympic wins in 1948. This book goes in great detail about everyone and everything, as well as great detail about swimming competitions. It's not for those vaguely interested. It's definitely for those interested in both swimming and the lives of Japanese-Americans, as well as native Hawaiians, in Hawaii before, during and after World War II. There is quite a bit about Duke Kahanamoku and Kano Jigoro, too. (Note: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    An insightful look at what it was like growing up in a sugar cane picking family, working hard to move past your expected destiny, and being a Hawaiian during WWII. Though in some ways, this book was just as much about Soichi Sakamoto as it was about the kids and their work towards competing in the Olympics. Having been a swimmer and now a runner, I was easily able to understand some of the training information, though Checkoway does an excellent job of explaining it. And her portrayal of the pe An insightful look at what it was like growing up in a sugar cane picking family, working hard to move past your expected destiny, and being a Hawaiian during WWII. Though in some ways, this book was just as much about Soichi Sakamoto as it was about the kids and their work towards competing in the Olympics. Having been a swimmer and now a runner, I was easily able to understand some of the training information, though Checkoway does an excellent job of explaining it. And her portrayal of the people involved along the way felt very true. This book would appeal to fans of swimming, sports, Hawaii, race relations, or history. I received a preview of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an objective review.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marti

    I loved "The Boys in the Boat," so when I read the reviews comparing this book to it, I grabbed it right away. The fact that most of it is set on Maui, my favorite place on earth, didn't hurt. It was a fascinating read about a group of kids and their coach who rose to international prominence out of a swim team that started in a sugar ditch. Checkoway skillfully blended the stories of swimming with the larger historical context. It's nonfiction that, in many parts, reads like fiction. A great re I loved "The Boys in the Boat," so when I read the reviews comparing this book to it, I grabbed it right away. The fact that most of it is set on Maui, my favorite place on earth, didn't hurt. It was a fascinating read about a group of kids and their coach who rose to international prominence out of a swim team that started in a sugar ditch. Checkoway skillfully blended the stories of swimming with the larger historical context. It's nonfiction that, in many parts, reads like fiction. A great read!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Van Reese

    This was an incredible story of courage, dedication, and success against improbable odds. The most amazing thing to me is that Soichi Sakamoto and his swimmers accomplished so much, yet are almost completely unknown. I recommend this book to anyone interested in swimming, and anyone interested in a story of a dream a long time in realization.

  16. 4 out of 5

    James

    Well written story about an awesome team. This book was a pleasure to read and I look forward to sharing it with my son when he is a little older. Won courtesy of Goodreads Giveaway.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Arredondo

    Excited...a few weeks ago I received my copy of The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway in the mail. I was intrigued by this book...the title alone had me interested and I just had to know who the Sugar Ditch Kids were. A time in history I have learned very little about, I had never heard about the Sugar Ditch kids and the events that took place from the 1920's to 1940's in and around the Olympics. So I get the opp Excited...a few weeks ago I received my copy of The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway in the mail. I was intrigued by this book...the title alone had me interested and I just had to know who the Sugar Ditch Kids were. A time in history I have learned very little about, I had never heard about the Sugar Ditch kids and the events that took place from the 1920's to 1940's in and around the Olympics. So I get the opportunity to read this book and I jumped right in as soon as I could. How to break it down...how to break it down...there is just so many details...so many events discussed..it seems the author left nothing out in all her research..which is a good thing most times..although it can lead to plenty of pages of slowness. This book is more than the story of the sugar ditch kids..those impoverished kids from Camp 5. We get the importance of all the lives before and during them..the rich history of the time for Japan...China...Hawaii...etc...we get a history of the Olympics and what it takes for a country to even have the opportunity to host such a prominent amazing event....we get famous swimmers, those that paved the way for people like Michael Phelps, Kornelia Ender, Ian Thorpe and many others. We also get a sense of bittersweet inspiration...you just can't not root for the underdog...the sugar ditch kids were the underdogs and they persevered through so many obstacles..it is evident in Checkoway's words how deserving these kids and teachers and people that made it all happen..how much they deserve their place in history. Their rich story deserving of great documentation and Checkoway provided that. Prominent rich families..the Baldwins, Alexanders, Castles, Cookes played and worked together. A fancy display of recreational sports and cocktails, contracts and mergers, business and play, there was also another world...the world of the impoverished. Plantation workers and their shoeless, sometimes shirtless children, strikes against these plantation owners, prejudice and injustice, the one thing that was of any solace and fun to these kids was school..and the dirty ditches they frolicked in. Used as something of a pool by these kids although it was not a real pool..merely an open place where each bridge crossed the canal...filled with debris and overwhelming currents. One day one of the teachers, Soichi Sakamoto, as he was watching over about 100+ kids splashing around in the mucky water realized a potential although he did not realize until much later that it would become his life's destiny. He wanted to teach these kids to swim...a man who did not know how to swim himself...and his methods were laughable, simplest of simple but amazing because they worked. From frolicking in a dirty ditch to winning school division championships to even greater feats the story of how it all unfolds is a special one. It's worth knowing about...it's worth the read. Again, there is so much more to this book than the story of the sugar ditch kids...there are other lives with their own stories within their story. Yes sometimes I found it dragging when we got into all the details of record times and swim techniques but it's still interesting enough to push past all that. I especially have such a deep respect for Julie Checkoway and the obvious fact that she did so much research to make this book happen. There's a Preamble, Author's Notes, Section Notes, a long list of all the Sugar Ditch Kids, and tons of great photos (which was my favorite part...it really makes the story stick with you...haunt you, when you have actual pictures of the people and events you are reading about). I enjoyed this book and I learned so much. Thanks to the peeps over at The Reading Room for accepting my request and sending me this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Ann

    This inspiring story was awarded to me by GoodReads for an honest review. I always do, and am "stingy" with my five stars. Initially, I was interested in the book because I see so much of what makes Hawaii disappearing and wanted to see what of it's history was being preserved. I was so impressed with the book; it took me a little to get accustomed to the style of a Storyteller that Ms. Chekoway uses. However, perhaps because of the story and the use of that style, I didn't want the book to end! This inspiring story was awarded to me by GoodReads for an honest review. I always do, and am "stingy" with my five stars. Initially, I was interested in the book because I see so much of what makes Hawaii disappearing and wanted to see what of it's history was being preserved. I was so impressed with the book; it took me a little to get accustomed to the style of a Storyteller that Ms. Chekoway uses. However, perhaps because of the story and the use of that style, I didn't want the book to end! It's so much more than a history; it's inspirational, addressing high expectations , discipline, prejudice where I had not expected it, perseverance, and so much more-- including the Spirit of Aloha. The 3YearSwimClub(3YSC) was a group of sugar ditch kids--children of poverty in the 1930's who swam in the dirty sugar ditches on Maui. Their teacher, Soichi Nakamoto, who knew nothing of swimming( he himself could not swim!) , inspires them, teaches them discipline and perseverance, and teaches himself the art and skill of swimming. He contributed so much to the sport, but contributed so much more to the lives of these kids. World War II interrupts their journey to the OLYMPICS!! Yes, those kids were on their way. We get a glimpse of the prejudices they met with, the support they received, and how these took Sakimoto's philosophy into battle fighting for the U.S. in WWII. Sakimoto and his 3YSC persisted and were in the 1948 Olympics! I am grateful that HI history is being preserved and the book can be an inspiration to others, not just in sports. Just as an aside, I see the 3YSC attitude in the return of the Warriors football team ) to Kauai today. They were contenders for the state title, but didn't win. These are the words of Their Coach "“We’re very thankful and very blessed to get the opportunity to contend for a state title,” Rapozo said. “Although we came up short, I’m proud of these boys. They hung in there. We worked hard. We set all of our goals, except for one. That’s just part of playing sports.” I can hear Soichi ..." Hang in there. Work Hard. Set goals. DREAM !!! Dream BIG!!" I LOVED THIS BOOK!!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah at Sarah's Bookshelves

    [3.5 stars] When I heard about this book at BEA, I immediately jumped on it…as I was a swimmer growing up (and was not familiar with this story) and love all things Olympics. Coming from that perspective, I enjoyed this book for the most part. I loved getting to nerd out with swimming and the Olympics – the political machinations behind the Olympic bidding process, 1930’s training techniques, and the differences in the 1930’s version of the sport (i.e. butterfly seemed to be missing and distances [3.5 stars] When I heard about this book at BEA, I immediately jumped on it…as I was a swimmer growing up (and was not familiar with this story) and love all things Olympics. Coming from that perspective, I enjoyed this book for the most part. I loved getting to nerd out with swimming and the Olympics – the political machinations behind the Olympic bidding process, 1930’s training techniques, and the differences in the 1930’s version of the sport (i.e. butterfly seemed to be missing and distances were 110, 220 rather than today’s 100, 200). If this stuff sounds like boring minutia, you should probably skip this one. I was completely invested in the fates of Sakamoto and his underdog swimmers during the first half of the book. Can they become national players? Will the females be allowed to attend Nationals? Will his stars make the Olympic team? Then, World War II hit, changing the story’s direction. It hit the pause button on the swimming suspense and shuffled the people I’d been rooting for. This is obviously how real life played out, but it made for an odd story arc and dulled my emotions. The Three-Year Swim Club lacked the intense emotional impact that made The Boys in the Boat such a widespread success, but would be a great choice for people interested in swimming and/or the Olympics. Visit www.sarahsbookshelves.com for more reviews.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Reggie

    The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway ranks with The Boys in the Boat as a masterful tale of human endeavor in sports. Both nonfiction works describe athletic triumphs achieved at great personal cost in the 1930s, with the Three-Year Swim Club moving through later years. The author seems so well acquainted with competitive swimming, I assumed she had personal experience with the thousands of hours swimmers devote to achieving mastery. Ms. Checkoway is simply a great writer with thousands o The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway ranks with The Boys in the Boat as a masterful tale of human endeavor in sports. Both nonfiction works describe athletic triumphs achieved at great personal cost in the 1930s, with the Three-Year Swim Club moving through later years. The author seems so well acquainted with competitive swimming, I assumed she had personal experience with the thousands of hours swimmers devote to achieving mastery. Ms. Checkoway is simply a great writer with thousands of hours logged in her writing craft and research. Her turn of phrase made me smile. For example, she described sports writers covering an amazing swim event as staying up way past their bedtimes “swatting at their typewriter keys.” Such artful description occurs again and again. She also refers to tidbits of the lively sports writing of the era and to local Maui newspapers in her first-rate reporting and writing. This is a thoroughly engrossing story that gives one hope for the human race.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Harry Delong

    I have been involved with swimming most of my life, as a swimmer and a coach. I have over the years read a bunch about swimming and its history. This book caught me by surprise. A little known, actually to me an unknown history. Hawaii had a swim club starting in about 1937 that formed the foundation of a long swim record of championships, olympians and a coach I wish I could have met. A non-swimmer that was bright, knew to watch the good swimmers, to examine what they did and to watch and under I have been involved with swimming most of my life, as a swimmer and a coach. I have over the years read a bunch about swimming and its history. This book caught me by surprise. A little known, actually to me an unknown history. Hawaii had a swim club starting in about 1937 that formed the foundation of a long swim record of championships, olympians and a coach I wish I could have met. A non-swimmer that was bright, knew to watch the good swimmers, to examine what they did and to watch and understand that great swimming occurs by hard work, technique, and attitude. A wonderful book discussing how a middle school swimmer began training poor sugar cane children on how to swim and swim well. A wonderful book and worth the reading. Very few do I read where putting the book down is a major effort. This is one such book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Allison Hanley

    I won a copy of this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway. I initially had a hard time getting into this book, but once I got to Part 2 I was completely invested. I definitely have an interest in Hawaiian history and I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the 20th century in Hawaii through the perspectives of Japanese-Americans and athletes. As a relatively new resident of the Big Island, this book has opened up my understanding of some of the culture and history around me. As I got further into the I won a copy of this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway. I initially had a hard time getting into this book, but once I got to Part 2 I was completely invested. I definitely have an interest in Hawaiian history and I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing the 20th century in Hawaii through the perspectives of Japanese-Americans and athletes. As a relatively new resident of the Big Island, this book has opened up my understanding of some of the culture and history around me. As I got further into the book, I couldn't put it down. I kept on reading, sometimes at the expense of my children, because I had to know how it would work out for the Maui kids. I would definitely recommend this book!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

    I've probably been spoiled by better written books that mine similar quarries (The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,) but this had some interesting nuggets hidden among lots of slogging. It was eye opening to see the class system on Hawaii at the time as well as the blatant racism of the South. I've probably been spoiled by better written books that mine similar quarries (The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,) but this had some interesting nuggets hidden among lots of slogging. It was eye opening to see the class system on Hawaii at the time as well as the blatant racism of the South.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bita

    It took me a long time to read and finish this book. If you are interested in swimming, training, Hawaii or in general tales of perseverance, this is for you. It's about how a school teacher started teaching some kids how to swim in ditches, and out of that came out national and Olympic champions. Amazing. But the book goes into a lot of detail about the races, times and technicality of swimming. Altogether, it was enlightening. It took me a long time to read and finish this book. If you are interested in swimming, training, Hawaii or in general tales of perseverance, this is for you. It's about how a school teacher started teaching some kids how to swim in ditches, and out of that came out national and Olympic champions. Amazing. But the book goes into a lot of detail about the races, times and technicality of swimming. Altogether, it was enlightening.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Very interesting I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot while reading it - about swimming, history, sugar plantations, Japanese Americans, life in Hawaii - all kinds of things. The author tells the story very well and brings the characters to life.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marie

    Loved the story and the history. He was a little to detailed and could be confusing when moving from character to character. I love swimming, history and especially the Olympics. If that is you, this is a good book for you.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    A fascinating story. The author did a ton of research. It could have done with a little more editing for content and clarity, though. I was going to give it a 2 because it dragged so much, but the ending got to me. The author has a cute style, but I think she just tried to put in too much.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Great read! So inspiring. Fans of Unbreakable and The Boys in the Boat will love this. Julie Checkoway's impeccable research was amazing. Great read! So inspiring. Fans of Unbreakable and The Boys in the Boat will love this. Julie Checkoway's impeccable research was amazing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shauna Yusko

    A little something for everyone. Sad I waited so long to read it. Sports, history, swimming, underdog stories. And for fans of The Boys in the Boat and/or Hawaiian history.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Noelle

    In The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway, a school teacher Sochi Sakamoto bring together children from the poor plantations on Maui and teaches them to become skilled swimmers. The story takes place during WW11, which brings a dim and hopless tone to the plot. The plot itself covers all the hardships the Hawaiian swimmers faced such as racism when traveling around the country to compete with different competitor In The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway, a school teacher Sochi Sakamoto bring together children from the poor plantations on Maui and teaches them to become skilled swimmers. The story takes place during WW11, which brings a dim and hopless tone to the plot. The plot itself covers all the hardships the Hawaiian swimmers faced such as racism when traveling around the country to compete with different competitors. Not only were their competitors better trained, well-nourished, and came from wealthy backgrounds, they also had a huge advantage on the Hawaiian swimmers as they were a lot bigger than the. Checkoway’s novel uncovered the truth of Sochi swimmers and the determination and hard work they put into trying to become the first Hawaiian Olympic swimmers. Despite the hardships, Sochi’s swimmers faced at home, and at the pool, they began to beat better-trained swimmers that were almost twice the size as them. They began shattering records and moving up in the competitions increasing their travel. These once poor, malnourished, plantation boys transformed overnight into Olympic swimmers. After signing the three-year contract to be a part of Sochi’s team each boy was more determined than the next to make it to the summer Olympics in Japan. After moving up in the competitions Sochi’s boys were ready for the Olympics but one harsh reality dawned on them. World War 11 was threatening the summer Olympics and therefore set back the boy’s goal. After being declared the greatest swimmers in the world they were given one last chance to be Olympic champions in 1948. The characters in the novel were grouped more often than not leading them to appear shallow and distant. The author never lets the reader in on the thoughts behind each character during their times of struggle which gives the reader the idea that their inhumane and emotionless. When talking about the characters specifically the swimmers Checkoway would group them such as on page 114 when she says “Yes, there were times when he and the boys felt homesick from Maui Nei, but he could also see the boys were enjoying…”. In this statement, she groups the boys as one and gives them all the same emotion while Sochi has been grouped in by himself with a separate emotion. The shallowness the boys are given makes it hard for the reader to connect with the characters therefore not connecting to the plot. The writing style used in this novel was information-based and I would say very repetitive. The story contained many facts about Hawaii and Sochi Sakamoto so much so that it was almost overwhelming to the reader. An example of this can be found on page 41 in the novel. The page itself is about the earthquake in Tokyo and how Nagata survived the tragedy. The story behind the writing is heartfelt and somewhat touching whereas her writing transformed it into a page of cold facts with and stonecold tone. The writing in this novel is somewhat newspaper-like and it’s quite to keep focused on it when reading a dump of information. In conclusion, The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway was an informative and factual book however was very poorly written. The novel itself was 500 pages of pure facts and undeveloped characters. The reader was not given a chance to understand each character on a personal level leaving them unattached to the novel. The writing itself was quite sluggish and quite honestly put me to sleep. However, the plot was based on an amazing and inspiring story and the information hidden within the novel was very real and informative. In all, I would not recommend this novel to anyone as I just do not think its literature should be appreciated.

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