The Three-Year Swim Club

The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory


By Julie Checkoway

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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 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.


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20° 51' 44.7" N 156° 26' 58.3" W

—Coordinates of the irrigation ditch

20° 51' 22.4." N 156° 27' 10.7" W

—Coordinates of the Camp 5 pool

IN 1932, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune named Philip Kinsley visited Maui, and on approach by interisland aeroplane, he saw the place as a "sculptured green cup… rimmed," he wrote, "by white Pacific surf lines." The sides of that cup were the island's two great mountain ranges to the east and to the west, and at the top of one of those ranges was the famed volcanic crater Haleakala.

In March of 2012, some eighty years after Kinsley traveled to Maui, I, too, saw the island's lush peaks, but my destination was the very bottom of Kinsley's cup, the arid, golden lowland that gave Maui the nickname by which it's still known today: "the Valley Isle."

In Kinsley's time that flat valley was planted with 30,000 acres of sugarcane, and it was home to some 8,000 souls living in 13 segregated labor camps in a village called Pu'unene. Pu'unene is mostly gone now. It's still the site of Hawaii's last working sugar plantation, but it would take a forensic archaeologist to reconstruct the village as it existed in the 1930s. Pu'unene was then a beehive of life, with shacks and shops and red dirt roads, but now its footprint lies beneath the soil, plowed under into more cane fields. One plot of the old plantation is the 25-acre Pu'unene Shopping Center, the cornerstone of which is a 140,000-square-foot SuperTarget. Back in 1932, Philip Kinsley found the plantation at Pu'unene to be the very model of "enlightened feudalism."

To find Pu'unene now, the easiest thing to do isn't to look for Target; it's to sight on the horizon the two striped smokestacks of the Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company mill that rise high above the tasseled cane. Over those stacks hang clouds of steam. Drive toward the stacks. Most tourists find them an eyesore, but to me, the stacks are a ragged kind of beauty: they are among the last pieces of a story that I'd grown afraid had passed away.

When I first heard of the Three-Year Swim Club, most of it, its stories and its people, had disappeared, and what little of it was left consisted of half-excavated bones that long ago had calcified into myth. There were a few original swimmers left; most were in their nineties and crisp of mind, but after years of "talking story" with each other—sitting together and emphasizing this moment or forgetting that one—the tale they told was a legend that went like this: in 1937, a schoolteacher in Pu'unene taught impoverished Japanese-American camp kids how to swim in the plantation's filthy irrigation ditches, and he challenged them to transform themselves into Olympians. That much was true, but was there was more that needed telling, and it was that more for which I'd come nearly three thousand miles to Pu'unene.

The school at which the teacher worked now houses county offices—and though just beyond its smudged windows and across the dusty road is the very ditch in which the Three-Year Swim Club had its start, if you stop and ask anyone nearby, no one will be able to tell you about the teacher or the children or the team.

Farther down that road, just past the abandoned Roman Catholic graveyard with its dark toothlike headstones, is the pool; it's on old plantation land, but the sugar company didn't keep it up. It's had no need to: no one really lives in Pu'unene anymore; after World War II, when the mill mechanized and laborers unionized, the camps emptied of workers who fled the island or moved on to real houses in a nearby subdivision known as "Dream City."

There's hardly any water in the old pool now, just what's gathered in the rain, puddles in which a couple of hopeful ducks skim the shallow surface and in which a wild black pig sometimes roams around. When I visited, I found the bamboo fence and the old bleachers gone, but the pool deck was intact, its zigzag pattern as perfect as if a team of masons had laid the brick and filled the joints with mortar only yesterday.

The pool's clubhouses, two of them, are standing, and on the outside walls is a set of hooks where rusty pulleys used to hang. Some seventy years ago, the children's teacher strung the pulleys' sheaves with lanyards and tied to one end of each of those ropes a heavy railcar wheel and to the other ends bamboo handles: the arrangement made a poor man's weight machine.

Knowing what the hooks and brick were once a part of, I couldn't help but see them all and the pool as symbols: the evaporating water, say, the ineluctable recession of the tale commencing in that very tank so many years before.

On the first afternoon I visited, I went there unseen, and, arriving stealthily, I stepped over two tipped plastic lawn chairs, making my way around oil barrels empty of their contents and slipping beyond an unchained gate onto the abandoned deck. I was trespassing, and in the last of the dim light, I noticed right away four planks of wood, each three feet long, and tacked above one another on a wall near where the pulleys used to be.

The planks had once been signs handpainted with the care of an amanuensis, but now on only two of the planks were words legible. In pretty script the topmost read No Running, and the next one down read No Horseplay, but the third and fourth had been erased by time and weather.

It grew darker still. There was no one around to hear or see me, and I felt in myself an impulse more brazen than trespass. The planks were held on by ancient, rusty nails. I scoured the deck for a tool of any sort, some way to gain leverage on the wood. A small crowbar would have done, a heavy stick, but I found nothing that could do the job.

Gently, starting at the topmost sign, I worked the tips of my forefingers around the edges of the wood until I felt that first resistance that occurs in the split second before a nail decides to give up the place that it's been sunk into for years. I felt the sweetness of the pull, the surrender of attachment. I gently pulled the wood some more. And then I heard the crack.

It wasn't loud; it was little more, say, than the sound of a twig breaking, but I knew for certain that I had separated a sliver of the plank from its place in the grain, and to me the noise was thunderous, and it stopped me cold. I felt the front of the sign for damage; finding none, I decided that the ruination was only in the back, and thus undetectable. When I stepped away from the wall, though, I was trembling. The weather hadn't changed, but I had. I stood in the dark like that for a long time. I was worse than a trespasser; I was a thief.

The plantation stopped growing cane in March 2016, but it still owns those signs. Still, who, I wondered, owns 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.

Over time I've learned that neither the teacher nor the children chose to write the story down because it was the tale of a team that no one felt he had the right to claim as his own. Each, instead, was content or, better said, resigned to the fact that the history of the Three-Year Swim Club would simply disappear.

I was a stranger to the story, but it seemed to me that someone ought to try to save it.




Each man has his own vocation. The talent is the call. There is one direction in which all space is open to him. He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion. He is like a ship in a river; he runs against obstructions on every side but one, on that side all obstruction is taken away and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea… He has no rival. For the more truly he consults his own powers, the more difference will his work exhibit from the work of any other.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter One


ON FRIDAY, August 20, 1937, three thousand people brimmed the bleachers at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium—working stiffs and hoi polloi in general admission, swells in the reserved seats, and just outside the concrete walls, barefoot local kids climbed the hau trees for the gratis view, perched on boughs like avifauna in silhouette. On the deck, hacks from the Advertiser, the Hawaii Hochi, and stringers from the radio service puffed on Lucky Strikes and Laramies and bumped gums about celebrities that they spotted in the grandstand.

The Depression had dealt tourism a blow, but at last healthy, wealthy, and bohemian types were returning to Hawaii, lured by colorful brochures describing liquid sunshine and simmering volcanoes wreathed in misty clouds like angels' robes, a paradise where, it was said, it rarely rained, but when it did, the shower of it was brief, polite, and generous: it left behind a signature of double rainbows.

In the late 1930s, tourists had come back again, and the windows of the Royal Hawaiian hotel winked on in shades of ochre and gold. Lip-locking lovers perambulated on the seaside piers, and holidaymakers gathered at the shore for luaus under Maxfield Parrish skies. In town for the summer were the likes of Cliff Durant, the dashing racecar driver, and Charlotte, his—fourth—wife; the stars Jeanette MacDonald and Alice Faye had come to Eden in the lull between shooting pictures; and members of the moneyed class whose names appeared with regularity in Mainland society columns had arrived as well: the Dr. Andrew J. Timbermans of Columbus, Ohio; the Mr. and Mrs. Stocks of Philadelphia; and the eminent Professor Edward August Kracke, PhD, Harvard, historian of the late Sung dynasty. Even nine-year-old Shirley Temple, 20th Century Fox's biggest asset, had been toodling about the town, visiting the former royal palace, reviewing the scores of naval troops recently arrived at the Schofield Parade Grounds, and taking lessons on her brand-new ook-kay-lay-lay.

Hawaii, like the nation that possessed it, was in recovery. Before the stock market crash in '29, twenty thousand tourists traveled to the islands each year, and not just the well-heeled; even contingents of Shriners used to arrive at the Aloha pier for their national conventions and parade through the streets of Honolulu astride camels, elephants, and on little carts drawn by water buffalo.

The return to prosperity had been slow, though. On the campaign trail for reelection in 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had called out to Mainland crowds at every whistle-stop that they looked happier to him than just four years before, but in truth not everyone had fared so well. A recession was on, workers were on strike in nearly every major US industry, even on Hawaii, and in the wake of a Supreme Court decision declaring FDR's reforms unconstitutional, the thirty-second president of the United States was in Washington, hanging on to the last shreds of his New Deal.

There were certain comforts, though, and on this night in Waikiki a festive spirit held sway. Even Liliuokalani Kawananakoa, the so-called "flapper princess," enjoyed the festivities; on Wednesday she'd shown up in a fabulous white skirt and jacket and had worn her dark, bobbed hair beneath a matching, au courant white hat.

At seven on the dot the Natatorium's incandescent lamps fizzed on, and the crowd stirred. In through a center arch marched the American Legion band followed by a scrum of grunting wrestlers, after whom spotlights spun to highlight the entrance of girls from the local pineapple cannery. On the far side of the pool, on all four of the springboards, lads from local swimming clubs performed a mass precision dive, the only low-spirited moment of which was when eight-year-old Sonny Boy Meyer had the wind knocked out of him and required resuscitation.

The Firemen's Glee Club crooned a round of a cappella tunes, and then, in a stadium darkened for the event, the men donned their leather helmets and rainproof coats and reenacted the search-lit rescue of a drowning fisherman, the successful completion of which was marked with streaming skyrockets.

A well-known stuntman, the 267-pound Hard Head Kalelua, climbed to the topmost level of the diving tower and, after toying with the crowd, pretending he might not jump, let loose a great Hawaiian war cry and flung himself into the air, sending up what the papers called "a mighty geyser of a splash."

The evening's honoree joined in the revelry, competing in an old-timer's fishing contest, reeling in a twenty-five-gallon barrel of gasoline; performing a "Chinese Triple Oar" trick with his brothers, three of them piled on one another's backs; and, although it was said that his heyday was far behind him, Duke Kahanamoku, the greatest swimmer of all time, performed a 50-yard exhibition swim at the age of forty-seven and in the very same trunks he'd worn while winning gold at the Paris Games in 1924.

There was—and arguably still is—no greater icon in the sport of swimming than Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. He was the most successful athlete of his time and the harbinger of Hawaii's Golden Age of Swimming. While the precise number of Olympiads in which he participated is in some dispute—some say three and others four—he competed as an amateur for longer than any other swimmer before or after him—twenty-one years in all—and even today, in the company of latter-day saints such as Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, Kahanamoku looms larger than they for his pioneering technique and his enduring influence upon the sport.

Historians mistakenly remember Kahanamoku only as the father of twentieth-century surfing—no small accomplishment itself—but Kahanamoku made his greatest contributions in the swimming pool, and it has famously been said of him that he was to swimming "what Babe Ruth was to baseball, Joe Louis to boxing, Bill Tilden to tennis, Red Grange to football, and Bobby Jones to golf." For centuries before him, people had mucked about in the water in all sorts of ways, but when Kahanamoku came along in 1911 and whizzed past the stunned spectators at Honolulu's barnacled Alakea Slip, he changed the way that human bodies moved through H2O.

Kahanamoku was a speed demon and an innovator. He transformed what was previously known as the Australian crawl—a low-in-the-water technique derided by critics as a keep-your-head-in-the-sand stroke—into something faster and definitively American. He introduced the world to an efficient flutter called the Kahanamoku Kick, a six-beat sequence that coordinated the arms and legs, created less drag, and even today is considered the gold standard for freestylers. Equally, if not more, impressive as a person of color, Kahanamoku—who was variously described as "copper-hued" or "velvet-bronze"—broke down racial barriers in pools across the globe, competing in the same Olympic Games in which Jim Thorpe courageously crossed the color line in track and field.

Kahanamoku was born in Waikiki on August 24, 1890, to a Hawaiian family of eight other children: David, Bernice, Bill, Sam, Kapiolani, Mari, Louis, and the baby Sargent. His own given name, "Duke," had nothing at all to do with blue bloodlines; his father was a Waikiki policeman who had become enamored with the Duke of Edinburgh after the nobleman's visit to the Sandwich Islands in 1869. Kahanamoku preferred to be called Paoa, his middle name, because it connected him more directly to his family's Hawaiian past.

In Waikiki and beyond, though, Duke Kahanamoku became de facto royalty. His athleticism and charm made him the islands' best-loved son. People invited him to civic events and elected him to office because his quiet charisma and good looks made everything that much better, and they prominently pictured him on postcards and memorialized him in as many ways as was humanly possible. By 1927, Kahanamoku was as close to godliness as a human being could be in the Territory of Hawaii, where missionaries had long frowned upon the gods.

Kahanamoku was, at the very least, a demigod: sportswriters struggled with the ways in which he was, at once, divine, human, a piece of art, or an animal. At 6 feet 2, he seemed to have descended from the heavens or to be in the act of ascending to them. Those inclined to view humankind through the lens of eugenics found Kahanamoku's forehead to be noble, his body symmetrical, his limbs chiseled; he was as finely sculpted as Michelangelo's David. Still, as a dark-skinned Pacific Islander, he was, for some, of a baser, wilder origin: a species lower than human. His size 13 feet were large as a tropical jacana's; his eyes were dark as a sable's; his hair was a thick black mane. Abroad in the 1920s, in the streets of Paris, where the color line was fundamentally different than it was in both Hawaii and on the American Mainland—in Europe it was a time of greater freedom for an African-American expatriate community that included Langston Hughes, for example—Kahanamoku was fetishized by women and overtaken by mobs of flappers so large that gendarmes had to clear the way for him to walk. At home in Hawaii, the combination of the things that made Duke Kahanamoku attractive everywhere else made him a symbol of the new Hawaiian brand—familiar, exotic, and beckoning.

One generation after the arrival of New England missionaries, mid-nineteenth-century Hawaii's economy was built on pineapple and sugar, but by the time Kahanamoku came on the scene, kamaainas—whites who had lived in Hawaii for a generation or so—realized that the islands had plenty of other assets: tourism was ultimately the most enduring source of revenue.

The early form of the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce advertised Hawaii as a heaven on earth, and when Kahanamoku was at his peak as an athlete and even beyond, his image embodied the place.

But Duke Kahanamoku was a mere mortal, and by the end of his career, the Olympic great had not produced a literal or figurative heir to take his place on the starting block or in fresh copy. Back in 1920, a Hawaiian by the name of Pua Kealoha swam behind Kahanamoku in Antwerp, winning silver in the 100-meter freestyle. Another Hawaiian, Warren Kealoha, no relation, won back-to-back gold medals in the backstroke in 1920 and 1924. Buster Crabbe, who was not a native Hawaiian but who lived in the Territory, won Olympic gold in the 400-meter freestyle in Los Angeles in 1932, and two island brothers named Maiola and Manuela Kalili grabbed silvers at the same Games in the 4x200-meter relay.

But after Los Angeles, though, history just wasn't on Hawaii's side. That year, swimmers from the Japanese Empire surprised the world by arriving on the West Coast fit, formidable, and rigorously trained, and they promptly established an empire in the swimming pool. That was bad news for all American mermen, as they were called, but it was also the start of a complete shutout for Hawaiians: while, once, the US Olympic men's swim team had carried no fewer than eight Hawaiian swimmers, by the time of Hitler's carnival in Berlin in 1936, not one islander was on the US roster.

When Kahanamoku officially retired from amateur swimming, he tried his hand at lots of things. He'd given the movies and Hollywood a shot. But where it was easy for Caucasian swim stars like Buster Crabbe to become heroic spacemen like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon or Johnny Weissmuller to became Tarzan, King of the Jungle, Kahanamoku's roles were of a lesser sort; mostly directors had cast him as a cigar-store Indian or a native tribesman.

In the late '30s, he had most recently run for the office of sheriff in Waikiki, and he'd won, although some people wondered how real the job was and how titular. He was Waikiki's unofficial greeter, too: when cruise ships docked at the Aloha pier, he met dignitaries and celebrities and showered them with leis. He was much loved and would be all his life. Not long before, a musician had composed a ditty in his honor; a new hula had been dedicated to him; a line of Aloha wear now had his name on it; local sports promoters had commissioned a sculptor to immortalize him in a statue said to cost some $15,000. And the swimming competition that August night of 1937 was named especially for him. It was the first annual Duke Kahanamoku Outdoor Swimming Meet, an event the Honolulu Junior Chamber of Commerce had invented with the intention of reviving the sport of swimming as it had been in Kahanamoku's youth.

Friday was the second and final night of the competition, although on Wednesday, the visiting team had thoroughly swamped the local talent, and as for the prospect of a new Kahanamoku, there was nothing and no one yet on the horizon. What Kahanamoku thought of the sorry state of affairs was only revealed years later in an interview he gave to columnist Dick Hyland of the Los Angeles Times. Kahanamoku had once famously said that out of the water, he was nothing. In the Hyland interview he said he saw no one like him in the water. Despondent, he had taken to sitting alone tossing pebbles into the surf at a beach once known as Sans Souci; in French the term meant, loosely, "without care." The new generation had become soft and lazy, he said. He didn't see a chance for a revival.

If there wasn't a chance of the restoration of Hawaiian swimming in the islands, then there was equally as little a chance for it in the literal pool in which the night's competition was to take place. The War Memorial Natatorium had once been a gleaming place, the precious pearl of Waikiki. Some ten years before, in 1927, on an evening similar to this one, Kahanamoku himself had christened the tank. That auspicious night, madmen raced through the city's narrow alleyways honking their horns and parking pell-mell on the nearby polo grounds just to be in time to see Kahanamoku perform a ceremonial swim and to emerge from the new tank to pronounce it a living dream.

There was, in fact, no other pool in history like the Nat. The tank was gargantuan, double the size of an Olympic venue—100 meters long and 40 feet wide, and it had cleverly been equipped with adjustable pontoons, so it was in that sense also the most ambitious swimming pool ever constructed: it could accommodate both American-style meets, which were measured in yards, and also European and Olympic ones, marked in meters. It was meant to become a draw for swimmers around the world who would compete with the generation of Hawaiian swim champions who were certain, from that vantage point in time, to come.

Its use was to be in the glorious future, but its purpose was also to serve as a permanent remembrance of the past. It was dedicated not to swimming heroes but to heroes who had devoted themselves to the American and European cause, a kind of living memorial to any Hawaiian who had risked life and limb in the Great War.

The planning of the place had been the likes of a drawing room farce. It had taken its steering committee—a motley assemblage of local politicians, Daughters of the American Revolution, and sundry other interest groups and concerned citizens—years to agree on its design. First it was to be nothing more than a carved stone on hallowed ground; then it grew into something monstrously disproportionate. In the end, it was built in the Beaux Arts style, with three low concrete walls and a fourth wall—a facade adorned with urns and eagles—echoing the greatness of the Roman Colosseum, and it was hailed as an architectural triumph nonpareil. From a passing steamship, tourists looked out on the Waikiki shore and easily mistook the Nat for a gleaming white, half-submerged football stadium, and locals prized the place, because it was the first public swimming pool available to them for play; social reformers saw the pool as a great advancement in what had been Hawaii's particular form of segregation: most actual pools, until that time, had been connected either to exclusive white social clubs or to the fancy hotels.

Few knew it from the beginning, but the Nat, though always grand from the stands or the vantage of an arriving steamer, and a pleasure for locals to swim in, was an engineering disaster. Its San Francisco architects had never before drawn up blueprints for a pool, and while the public adored it, and it was adjustable for events, it was wholly unsuited to sanctioned competition. It was the first ever pool to be built directly along a shoreline, and it jutted out to sea and was fed directly by the ocean. The blueprints of the place had been romantic, but when built, it was manifestly impractical. Open to the ocean, it was only as good a place to swim as the ocean was: a rough-water venue even at its best.

Furthermore, the tank's construction had first been long delayed and then rushed and shoddy. Within less than a year from when Duke christened it, the Nat became what one later critic called "a pockmark on the countenance of paradise." Its hazards were famous, countless, and almost too far-fetched to be real. Tides buckled its walls. Seaweed clogged its state-of-the-art filtration system.

For divers it was horrible. Most notably, in 1929, one of Admiral Byrd's most intrepid companions to the North Pole thought, during a brief sojourn in Honolulu, that it was not too great a risk to dive headfirst into the tank from the pool's 30-foot-high board, but he was rewarded for his stunt with a shattered shoulder—an injury more serious than any he had experienced during his adventures on terra firma.

Swimmers had it worse than divers, though. The tide sucked them off course, waves rendering lane markers useless. Competitors raced illegally in one another's lanes and, hence, risked disqualification for tangling hopelessly in the ropes. A bed of coral with pieces sharp enough to bloody up the knuckles and toes lined even the shallow end, and the water circulated so rarely in the tank as a whole that it became a viscous stew, in which a range of creatures made their habitat and through which one had to brace oneself in competition just to reach the wall.


  • "A brightly told story of the triumph of underdogs... exuberant, well-researched...tense, vivid, and inspiring."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "If the basis for the book doesn't sound amazing enough, how the story unfolds--Japan vying for the Olympic games, Pearl Harbor being bombed, WWII changing the world forever--allows the story and characters to evolve in uplifting and heartbreaking is evident that Checkoway's ability to set a scene is uncanny and accomplished...Depicting determination, discrimination, hope, anguish, hard work, and hard choices, Checkoway has created a sports history that is singular in its own right, and a fitting testament to the over 200 youths who swam for many reasons toward one goal: 'Olympics First! Olympics Always.'"—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
  • "Remarkable real-life account...about as underdog as it gets."—Boston Globe
  • "An inspiring true tale of grit and determination... Checkoway skillfully weaves vivid scenes into a larger narrative with a varied cast of characters to create a stirring, though exhaustive, account ...Pair this with The Boys in the Boat."—Booklist
  • "This story of one (at first) seemingly unremarkable man and his effect on camp children and the world of swimming is both inconceivable and dazzling. You won't want to miss it."—Book Reporter
  • "This captivating nonfiction, featuring engaging individuals and portraying a tumultuous time in history, chronicles Hawaii's second golden age of swimming. Sports and history enthusiasts will enjoy this title as much as book clubs and general readers."—Library Journal
  • "Checkoway carefully weaves together facts into a sweeping historical tapestry."—The Salt Lake Tribune
  • "Checkoway's story of youthful perseverance will earn a place on the shelf with The Boys in the Boat."—The National Book Review
  • "Save the story she has, through exhaustive research and sparkling prose."—BookPage
  • "[A] reverent tale...Through meticulous research, Checkoway brings crisp focus to a fuzzy time in American history...The book carries hints of The Boys in the Boat...Checkoway stays true to her salvage mission. She unearths characters flawed and fetching and shines an unflinching light on race and class...glorious storytelling and a triumphant, unpredictable finish."—Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "Shows that sometimes all you need to start something epic is a dream."—Bustle
  • "Checkoway takes on an incredible story of overcoming obstacles and defying the odds...poignant."—Swimming World Magazine
  • "This story of one (at first) seemingly unremarkable man and his effect on camp children and the world of swimming is both inconceivable and dazzling. You won't want to miss it."—Book Reporter
  • "A good and graceful writer."—Honolulu Magazine
  • "A made-for-the-screen story."—Outside Magazine
  • "Exceptionally well-researched and well-written."—
  • "A wild, improbable story that makes for popular Hollywood movies but rarely happens in real life. But this story's real."—Maui Time
  • "This true story is entertaining and absorbing and good for the soul."—Sunset Magazine
  • "A classic underdog story...Had [Checkoway] not written this book, their exact story might have never been told, but instead, American swimming's most fascinating chapter gets the shine it deserves."—Deadspin
  • "Lively, at times history reading more dramatic than fiction...surprises wait in both the pool and in the story of these remarkable characters."—Petoskey News

On Sale
Oct 27, 2015
Page Count
448 pages

Julie Checkoway

About the Author

Julie Checkoway is an author and documentary filmmaker. A graduate of Harvard, the Iowa Writers Workshop, and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, she is also the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts individual artist grant and a Yaddo fellowship. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salt Lake Tribune, and Huffington Post.

Learn more about this author