Olympic swimmer fosters smiles, smooth strokes

WAIMEA — Being able to meet and learn from a former Olympic swimmer was just icing on the cake for the visiting Coto De Caza Coyotes swim team.

Former Olympic swimmer and Dr. Chris Woo returned to host another clinic Saturday for swimmers who were participating in the 20th Mokihana Aquatics Fun Meet.

Mokihana Aquatics Team Leader Kaitlin Santos said he won a gold medal in 1980 as part of the United States Men’s 4×100 meter medley relay team. She added that Woo, of Hawai‘i, is best known as an Olympic breaststroker.

This is the stroke Woo worked on with aspiring swimmers at a free clinic he led following the day’s competition at the Waimea pool.

Swimmers from all five participating clubs — including two from California, three from O‘ahu and two from Maui — joined Mokihana Aquatics swimmers at the annual two-day meet and later practiced their dolphin and breaststroke kicks and push-offs from the walls.

Almost every swimmer was familiar with the accomplishments American swimmer Michael Phelps has piled up at the ongoing Olympics in Beijing, and Woo used this to drive home his points during the clinic.

“What makes this event exciting is that it coincides with the 2008 Summer Olympics,” said Santos, an 18 and under swimmer.

Coto De Caza Coyotes coach Todd Conrad said this was the first time his club had come to the Hawaiian Islands for a swim meet.

“We were looking to vacation and swim at the same time, so we contacted Coach Orlando “O” Anaya,” Conrad said. “What better place than Hawai‘i to do the two things we love to do.”

Conrad brought along a contingent of 19 swimmers ranging from 5 to 15 years old.

Tommy Rita, whose grandchildren Kaimana and Kiani Gandeza swim for Mokihana Aquatics, said having an Olympic swimmer volunteer time as a meet official and lead a clinic for the swimmers is the kind of role model athletes should be.

He added that Woo’s son also swims for a community program so that helps him relate to the children.

The mother of Kenji Mori, a swimmer with the Sun-shine Swim Club on O‘ahu, agreed with Rita, noting that Woo took his son out of a bigger program and put him into a smaller program for the discipline and attention.

“Kenji just moved up to the 11 age group so he’s starting low,” the O‘ahu swimmer’s mother said. “But he had to come back to swim for Coach ‘O.’”

Kaua‘i Mayor Kaipo Asing said the fun meet offered a great opportunity for young people to interact and engage in healthy competition.

“As participants, they are learning valuable life lessons including discipline, dedication and good sportsmanship,” Asing said. “I commend the organizers of the Mokihana Aquatics Fun Meet 2008 for their efforts to provide a wholesome activity for young people that fosters important values they can carry through to adulthood.”

Santos, a swimmer in the 18 and under group, remembered the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste expressing similar sentiments.

“By participating, we are learning valuable life lessons,” Santos said. “With these lessons learned, we can become better citizens and guardians of this beautiful country.”

Conrad said having his Coyote swimmers at the Waimea pool gave him a new perspective on meets.

“On the Mainland, we have more than a thousand kids at a meet like this,” Conrad said. “You hardly have time to see your kids. Here, you can watch your kids smile. And they haven’t stopped smiling from the time the plane landed.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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