Keo Nakama

 It all started in the irrigation ditch in Puunene, a good eighteen years back when the little boys in their knee pants used to jump in the running water to swim, play tag and dive for objects. And among these youngsters tadpoling around in the often filthy water were boys who were later to become America's outstanding mermen and champions.

Keo Nakama, the eldest of the Nakama family of three boys including Bunmei Nakama, who later become a champion himself, used to sandwich a cool plunge in the ditch between his endless tasks of helping his mother with her work around the household. But before this happened, Keo's mother did everything around the house to bring up the young boys 'midst humble means. And as the mother stated in one of her favorite sayings, "I had to let Keo alone crying in his crib as I was too busy with my work, and because of this, my son developed such a thing as will power, strength and tenacity. In addition to this he suffered a lot as he grew up and was constantly working to help me with my chores."

Swimming was just one of those natural things that the ditch boys indulged in besides playing marbles, cowboy and Indian, and baseball in which young Keo began to show much promise. Up-stream and down -stream went the close-to-the nature paddlers and this helped to develop their arm and leg power beyond what ordinary pool-swimming would give. And mixed in with their ordinary fun-swimming, the gang as they called themselves, swam in the never-to-be-forgotten ditch races. The familiar yells and screams that accompanied their crazy antics and races were common occurrences and almost proved to be a nuisance to those who lived near the ditch. Already these teenagers were beginning to sense the superior seed and endurance of those within their midst. They began to name and pick them on their sides to strengthen whatever team they organized to race against each other. Keo Nakama, Halo Hirose, Asagi Honda, Sammy Nakasone, Jose Balmores, Emerick Ishikawa, and Hisashi Yamada were names that began to become more and more popular in these kid-races.

Nearby was Puunene School which Keo and his friends attended and it was here they started themselves in a regular unit for competition against boys of other schools on Maui. The regularly scheduled kids' and school swimming meets under the sponsorship of the Alexander House Community Association of Maui gave the boys the necessary impetus and challenge to test their mettle against outside competition. By this time, Keo had grown to about twelve years of age and he and Halo Hirose began to thunder their way to victories in all of their Maui Kid races. The closest race was in the 100 yard freestyle in which both boys competed. The final result was never decided until the last foot or two as either one could do around a minute flat for the distance. Puunene School, which had never won a Maui School Swimming championship up till then, finally began to win victory after victory to be come peerless among the school boy ranks.

Later while at Maui High School, the up and coming nators began to make themselves felt throughout the territory as Keo won the 500 yard freestyle race and broke the existing criterion of 6:07 plus and Halo swam the 220 yard freestyle event in 2:22 plus. This started the ball rolling for the duo, but it was not until that great day when Keo, who was sixteen years of age challenged and vanquished the Olympic tested Ralph Gilman in the 400 meter race, did the world know that here at last was a real champion who could take the place of Hawaii's swimming greats like Duke Kahanamoku. Later in the 200 meter freestyle race against the great Olympic champion, Jack Medica, our pair finished second and third with Keo taking the silver medal for his great work. After this great race Jack Medica stated, "These boys are already fit for topnotch competition.

 They ought to go to the National meets on the Mainland." This statement proved very true as Keo placed second in the one mile, 800 meter and 400 meter races while Halo finished second in the 200 meter event to Adolph Kiefer. This happened in the 1938 Men's Outdoor National Swimming Meet at Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1939 at Detroit, Michigan, right after Keo's triumphant and memorable swimming trip to Australia, young Nakama won his first National crown in the 200 meter freestyle event and placed second in the 400 and 800 meter races to the champion Ralph Flanagan. It was the first National team championship for Maui.

At Santa Barbara, California the next year, Keo lost his crown in the event that he won in 1938 to the great Otto Jaretz. The Valley Islander, who represented the Alexander House Community Association, vindicated himself by winning his races in the 400 meter and 800 meter freestyle events to win two National Championship crowns. These great performances paved the way for the second in a row team title for Maui.

1940 was not very bright for young Keo as he underwent an operation for appendicitis and everything appeared gloomy for him as far as swimming was concerned. However, the big Hawaiian Outdoor Swimming Championship Meet was just about three months after the operation and following his doctor's permission, Nakama started preparing for the big event. He proved himself fit and as good as ever when he swam the best 400 meter race in his life in which he did a 4:46.8 to place second to the scintillating star Bill Smith, who won it in the record time of 4:44.8. Then at the National Outdoor Swimming Championships at St. Louis, Missouri, our fast recovering swimmer proved that he was still the great champion by annexing the 1500 meter and 800 meter crowns, and coming second to Bill Smith in the 400 meter race. He tied with Jose Balmores and Bill Smith for the high point swimmer of the meet. Once again the outstanding performances of our young star brought back the third team title in a row for the Valley Island and Alexander House Community Association. 1941 proved to be the greatest year for young Nakama as he performed his greatest swimming feat by establishing a world's record of 20 minutes 29 seconds in the one mile swim and being out-touched by Bill Smith when he too made a world's record of 9 minutes 54.6 seconds in the 880 yard freestyle race at New London, Con cut.

1942 on to 1945 Keo heralded as the greatest Buckeye swimmer and he was honored by becoming captain of his team in 1944 and 1945. Inter-collegiate championships became a byword with the Mauian as he was king of the 1500 meter and 400 meter events throughout his college years. 1945 saw Keo not only a swimmer but he played and captained his Ohio State baseball team. Keo's second love, baseball, began to creep up on him and he couldn't resist the temptation of the diamond game.

Following graduation, Hawaii beckoned Casey (a name which Keo adopted while playing base ball) home, and since then he has hung up his familiar trunks but still takes an active interest in his beloved sport as a very capable official. Today, Hawaii wants to remember and commemorate the great athlete from Puunene, Maui and keep him close to its heart as one who had done much for Hawaii's sake through his never-to-be-forgotten feats in the water and for his great sports like conduct out of the water. For this, the Keo Nakama Meet was inaugurated to perpetuate the name of Hawaii's great athlete. Last year, Ohio State - Keo's alma mater was invited to take part in the first meet, and this year University of Michigan will be our guests.

 This article was taken from the "Second Annual" Keo Nakama Swimming Invitational -August 20 - 31 1947. Yes, the meet was 7 days long - trials finals !!! The Second Annual Keo Nakama Swimming Meet