Jim Jung (it’s Chinese, not German) is 79 years old. He could be at home relaxing his days away, taking things easy, enjoying the fruits of a professional career.
But Jung is also a man who believes in doing good. He believes in the power of positive thinking. He believes he has many good years ahead and he plans to use them. And he wants to benefit others along the way.
In fact, he pretty much believes he — and others — can do whatever he sets his mind on.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s a way of keeping your mind young.”
And clearly, the heart, too.
His has been a lifetime of believing and doing.
He was born and raised in the slums of Boston. He joined the Coast Guard Reserves, was a lifeguard in high school, graduated from Suffolk University and Suffolk University Law School in Boston and was an attorney. But that’s just one of his many talents.
He’s been a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, teaches ocean safety classes to keiki and driving safety classes to kupuna. He’s a chaplain for the American Legion. He’s a talented carpenter. In 1986, he completed Ironman in Kona, looking more like a ripped 30something than his 52 years. He is a finisher of the Kauai Marathon in the days it finished in Vidinha Stadium.
He is a certified arthritis instructor for seniors. He is a scuba diver. He is a father of four sons and grandfather to four, too. And he dearly misses his wife of 35 years, Jackie, who died nine years ago.
And did we mention he’s a survivor of prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma?
Jung has done and is doing more with his life. The man keeps driving ahead.
One of his priorities on Kauai, which he has called home for more than four decades, has been preaching the importance of knowing the dangers that the ocean presents, and how to avoid becoming a victim of its power. The Garden Island caught up with Jung to talk about his remarkable life.
The Garden Island: You seem to be a pretty positive thinker?
Jim Jung: I am, for the most part. I’m working on my listening. And I’m working on forgiveness.
TGI: Does anything upset you?
JJ: No, not really. Wait, yes there is. Speeding along the Wailua Golf Course. If the county could get a percentage of the speeding fines and it could be more enforced, I think they’d get enough money to run the police department. And getting that kind of money would encourage them to do better enforcement. I go the speed limit and everybody is passing me. I saw an accident the other day by Coco Palms, it was a head-on.
TGI: How do you stay so focused and active at 79?
JJ: I wonder if it’s a residual benefit of all the running and biking and swimming I did in my younger days. You have to exercise your brain, exercise your body, socialize with other people. Maintain vascular health through walking, manage your stress. Some stress is OK. And be positive. Those are things you can do.
TGI: What do you do to keep the brain sharp?
JJ: You need things to challenge you. Crossword puzzles help. Another way to exercise your brain is to do Sudoku if you’ve never done that before. Learn a new instrument. Pick up a harmonica, inhale and exhale. You’re exercising your lungs and you can learn to play.
I’ve learned it’s a myth that when you get a certain amount of brain cells they die off and never get replaced. With effort, they can become replaced and you need to do that. Learn something new. I teach. That keeps my brain active. Interacting with students. I learn from them, too.
I try to practice what I preach. The only thing I don’t do is exercise now. My ankles and knees give out and I try to get to swimming, but when I’m ready, the pool is full.
TGI: What did it mean to you to complete Ironman?
JJ: It was wonderful, but it was a selfish thing and it was an addiction. My wife said, “I’ll support you for one Ironman, but after that, I want to see you around.” And I said “OK.” Later on, I gained 100 pounds and she said, “Jim, how could you let yourself get so out of shape?” And I said, “You wanted me around, and I’m round.”
TGI: How difficult was it to get over your wife’s death?
JJ: She was 10 years younger than me. Ate really well, almost a vegetarian, and she just went. We were supposed to grow old together and I was supposed to go first. That didn’t happen. I was very angry about that, I was very negative, and hospice transformed my mindset from negativity and anger to positive and gratitude. They reminded me Jackie was special and I was lucky to have her in my life. I said, “Yeah, you’re right.”
TGI: Where does your faith come in?
JJ: I’ve been doing the things that Buddha teaches but I think I’ve always practice what he taught, to think good thoughts, to do good things and stay that way. Be safe and try to do something nice for everybody. If you’re thinking good thoughts, you’re not going to be crabby.
TGI: Let’s talk about ocean safety. How did you become involved with the Kauai Lifeguard Association?
JJ: I had been an active member of Coast Guard Auxiliary and was teaching safe boating classes, ocean safety and I got a call. Could you come and help us at the Kauai Lifeguard Association and be on thee board of directors? And then I got a call from Dr. Monty Downs. And I said, sure, this is something I have a passion about. Today, I’m the vice president.
TGI: How are we doing on ocean safety?
JJ: We’re doing pretty good. We put together a PowerPoint program and showed it at Wilcox with Dr. Downs a few Saturdays ago. And I’m going to put it on display at some upcoming events. It goes over what is drowning, why do people drown, how to prevent drowning, what are rip currents, how are they formed, what do you do when you’re caught in one and why swim near a lifeguard. We had, in 2013 I think, 472 actual rescues and 92,000 preventions.
TGI: Kauai has had four drownings this year. Can anything more be done to make things safer for those going in the water? Are there more educational efforts that can be made?
JJ: Yes, we just need to do more of it. Unfortunately, some people are unaware of the dangers.
I noticed this year people are having more trouble with snorkels. Apparently, they aren’t properly briefed on the use of snorkels or how to clear a snorkel if water gets in. They start to panic, and they start to hyperventilate and they start taking water into their system.
TGI: Don’t you just blow out the snorkel to clear it?
JJ: That’s right, but some people panic and don’t do that. There are a lot of people who are inexperienced.
TGI: How can someone know if there’s a rip current?
JJ: (He uses an illustration he brought with him). The water starts thousands of miles away and comes in unobstructed until it hits the island. It comes up on the beach and then it has to find a way out. It takes the least resistive way out, and that’s in the channels. So it will come up, come together and go out through the channel. Rip currents aren’t always bad. Surfers love them. It’s their taxi ride out to the waves.
But people who are inexperienced, who don’t know about them, will get caught and panic and hyperventilate and take in water. So the key is, let it take you until it releases you, then tread water and signal for help and hopefully, one of our more than 200 rescue tubes around the island will be available and somebody can grab one and go out and assist.
TGI: You also speak to keiki about water safety. How do you present it to them?
JJ: I dress as a pirate and read them pirate stories. I buy them pirate hats. I bring my stuffed parrot. At the end of the story, I ask, “What happens to a pirate that misbehaves or doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do?” Twenty little voices say, “Walk the plank.” And if you walk the plank where do you end up? Twenty little voices again say, “In the water.” And if you’re in the water, what do you need to know how to do? “Swim.” So they’re go home and tell their mom, “I’ve got to take swimming lessons.” Why? “Because Captain Greybeard said I might have to walk the plank.” I have fun dong that.
TGI: Why do so many people get in trouble in the ocean? Is it just because they’re not aware of the risks?
JJ: There are some people who know them, but ignore the risks. Some people overestimate their ability. They come from the Midwest and they swim in ponds or lakes, they don’t realize the ocean is a totally different environment and so they don’t have the ability to handle it. They think it’s the same as a swimming pool. It’s not the same.
JJ: Did you used to swim a lot in the ocean when you were younger?
When I was a public defender at lunch time I would go to Kalapaki Bay and swim from the stream to the point where the lighthouse is, and back again. One day when I was swimming, Jiro Yukimura, JoAnne’s father, the two of us didn’t know we were in the water at the same time, we bumped heads out in the middle of the bay. And we both freaked out. Then, we discovered who it was. And then I stopped doing that. I took my sons fishing there one time and saw about a 6-foot tiger shark. And I knew inside the cove was the breeding grounds for the little hammerhead sharks. I used to see them in close and figured mama wasn’t far away.
TGI: Anything left on your bucket list?
JJ: Yeah, I want to take my children to travel. I’d like to take them to New York City, where my son lives. Greece is another place to see. Still a lot of places to see in this world.