Akebonos momSheer determination and commitment to a sport he loved drove Akebono to become the first non-Japanese to achieve the title of yokozuna, grand champion in sumo wrestling.
says the champ
After reaching sumo's highest
rank, Waimanalo's Chad Rowan
is forced to retire because of injuries
By Janine Tully
"He was not my most athletic boy, he was clumsy; it was like his body didn't catch up with his brain," said Akebono's mother, Jan Rowan.
"But he had determination," she said, sitting in her Waimanalo store, the Sumo Connection. Fronting the store, and serving as a landmark is a bronze statue of her son in a sumo posture.
Her two young sons didn't like sumo, she said. "They didn't like being half naked nor the discipline required."
So when in high school Akebono, whose real name is Chad Rowan, started excelling in wrestling, she was surprised.
Thirteen years and many winning tournaments later, Akebono has been forced to retire because of knee injuries. The decision was grueling for the whole family, said Rowan, who discussed the matter with her son a year ago. Then three weeks ago he made up his mind, she said.
"It was his decision, not the doctors. After my kids reached 19, they made their own decisions."
Now that he's not competing and doesn't take painkillers, he is in constant pain, said his mother.
And though she is somewhat sad to see her son's career end so early, she's glad he won't hurt himself anymore and will come home more often.
"Now he can travel more freely," Rowan said. "When you belong to (Japan's sumo association) they own you. Now I'll get to see him and spend more time with my grandchildren." Rowan has 12 grandchildren, including those of Akebono and his wife, Christine -- Caitlyn and Cody. The family lives in Tokyo.
Waimanalo residents were still reeling over news that their local hero was retiring, and a few hadn't heard about it. But they were all in support of his decision.
"In a way I'm sad," said Thomas Weatherspoon. "But why continue injuring yourself when your life is so successful already?" Weatherspoon, who works at the Waimanalo Laundromat, said he didn't remember hearing about Akebono retiring while watching a television broadcast Sunday. All he remembers, he said, is looking at the highlights of his career. Perhaps it's better for him to leave now, at the height of his career, he mused.
Val Kanoa, a 20-year Waimanalo resident, expressed the same feelings. "I'm sad," said Kanoa as she put clothes in a washing machine at the Laundromat. She remembers "Chad" coming into Shima's Market to pick up items for his mom. She knew, she said, he had been hurt during a tournament. "If he's injured, he should quit."
Rosanna Daniel, project director for Waimanalo's Weinberg Village, said she was surprised to hear of Akebono retiring. "He was very supportive of the village," Daniel said. "He would come down and talk to the kids, and they would get excited. He was a very positive image for the community. They were amazed at his size and always wanted to have their picture taken with him."
"I'd always see Chad walking by and talking to the Weinberg Village kids," said Weatherspoon. "He's an ordinary brother, not one to forget about the little people."
Rowan doesn't know what Akebono's plans are. She said he will most likely stay in Japan and continue being involved with wrestling in some capacity.