CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Wada family, daughter Merri Wada Tanji, father Stan Wada, mother Adele Wada and daughter Terri Wada, are all swim coaches.
Clan of coaches pool their talents
If Stan Wada had not met the famed Hawaii swim coach Soichi Sakamoto, he probably would never have given swimming another thought.
Today, after being a full-time swim coach for both age-group and high school teams, Wada, 66, is looking to retire, but he and two daughters are coaching swimming, supervising practices six days a week and going to swim meets across the state.
Wada explains that his oldest daughter, Gerri, was a swimmer at a young age, and that while going to meets, Wada talked about the sport with Sakamoto, who had turned kids from Hawaii into national collegiate and Olympic swimming champions.
"He would point out things about the swimmer and after just four strokes could say which swimmer would win a race," Wada said.
Coaches like the Wadas say the beauty of the sport is not about winning, but in showing up every day, practicing, growing faster and stronger, pushing yourself and your teammates.
For more than two decades that self-discipline has been part of the Wada family, as Stan Wada saw all seven children through competitive swimming, first as a parent, then a coach.
"Growing up all my dad would talk about is swimming. He coached me during my high school years. During the meets my dad would coach us from the side. He has always been in it and we have been there, too," says Terri Wada, Stan's 27-year-old daughter, who also is an assistant coach at Aulea and helps Stan coach the Castle High School swim team.
Daughter Merri Wada has been head coach of an age-group swim team, Rainbow Aquatics, for nine years.
At the city's Palolo pool, where Merri coaches every day, the team has grown from a struggling 40 swimmer team to nearly 100.
"We are so big that today we qualify 40 swimmers for the state championship," Merri says, noting that last year, her team came in third in the state champs.
During the day, Merri, 31, teaches at Moanalua Elementary School.
After getting a degree in business, Merri said she found she didn't like accounting and went back to University of Hawaii for a master's in education.
"I realized that coming to swim practice was the one thing during the day that made me happy and teaching is very similar to coaching."
The coaching philosophy among the Wadas varies. Stan appreciates the techniques of swimming, something learned from listening to Sakamoto coach.
Terri works with intermediate level swimmers and she always expects to be tested.
"They see me and they think because I am a young girl, I will be really nice. I tell them I have expectations and this is how the workout is going to be run and these are our goals," Terri says.
Merri sees the swim team as both competitive training ground and the basis for a family.
"Stroke technique and efficiency are important. But, with our team it is so family oriented. I try to make the kids feel like they are all part of the team."
For a while both Terri and Stan also coached at Palolo for Merri's team. It was a learning experience for all of them.
"Yeah, we would fight all the time," Merri says, laughing. "Terri and I could bounce ideas off each other, but when it is your father ...
"After about a year my dad said 'OK, I understand, you are the boss,'" Merri said, adding that her mother pointed out to Stan that "you better be careful because she is the head coach."