Shiraishi honored at meet

KAHULUI – Each year the Soichi Sakamoto Memorial Invitational honors the late Maui coach who helped swimmers capture multiple medals at the Olympics.

For the meet’s 40th year, however, Sakamoto shared the honor with the longtime coach who started the event: Spencer Shiraishi.

“This has been a meet where we all pulled together in memory of my dad,” Shiraishi’s son, Spencer Shiraishi Jr., said Saturday morning at Sakamoto Pool. “My dad would really not want to be honored or lifted up, and would say, ‘No, no, no this is the Sakamoto swim meet.’ But what we did was just acknowledge and honor Coach Shiraishi and all that he has done.”

During the tribute, Mayor Alan Arakawa and Council Member Don Guzman announced the renaming of Kahului Pool to Coach Spencer Shiraishi Memorial Pool.

Shiraishi coached for more than 60 years on the island and was praised for his patience, care and dedication to youth swimming. After starting at Paia Elementary School, he would later found the Maui Swim Club in 1958, after serving in World War II.

Shiraishi died on Aug. 29, 2013, at age 87 at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

Among those trained by Shiraishi was Seabury Hall graduate Randall Tom, who called Shiraishi’s death a big loss “for the whole swimming community of Hawaii.”

“He probably taught at least half the kids here,” Tom said of the 214 participants at this year’s event.

Tom, a state champion and owner of a world championship silver medal, grew up with Maui Swim Club and attributed his accomplishments to the longtime coach.

“He coached me all the way to high school, even when I came back during college he coached me too,” Tom said.

After founding the Sakamoto meet in 1974, Shiraishi coordinated the event every year, including last year.

“He was still at the pool five days a week,” his son said. “The only time he wasn’t was if he was in Las Vegas or seriously ill.”

Shiraishi Jr. has taken over his father’s duties and before the event joined a group of swimmers who trained under the coach for a lap to commemorate him.

“It’s an honor that the sport of swimming will continue with great coaches all around,” Shiraishi Jr. said. “My dad was just a coach who pushed through all hardships, all obstacles and I think that other coaches understand and realize how much he did.”

Swimmers ranging from 4 to 57 years old from across the state kicked off the two-day meet Saturday – among them was Renny Richmond, a six-time state champion at Seabury Hall who now competes for the University of Arizona. He was able to extend his stay on Maui after talking with his college coach.

“I told him there was a meet back home and I was supposed to do a meet in Arizona but he let me stay a little longer and do this one,” Richmond said. “It was a win-win.”

Richmond and Tom squared off early in a 50-meter free-style heat, which Richmond won in 23.96 seconds ? .04 ahead of Tom.

“I’m getting old,” Tom said, laughing.

While the veterans lit up the pool, 10-year-old Jaden Yip of Lahaina Swim Club captured first place in heats of his own, including the boys 10 and under 200 individual medley.

“I feel like I did pretty well today,” Yip said after finishing the race in 3:08.75.

Kysha Altura, 14, of Hawaii Swim Club was a first-place finisher with a time of 2:36.25 in the girls 13-14 200 individual medley.

Altura, an 8th grader heading to Maui Preparatory Academy next year, said she enjoyed racing with swimmers from across the state.

“It’s great, they give me a lot of competition and they’re all my friends so it’s just really fun swimming with them,” she said.

Yip and Altura said they look up to the older, stronger swimmers such as Tom and Richmond, and have received tips from them.

“I try to set my goals with them and try to be like them because they’re my role models,” Altura said.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at