Yoshito Hori speaks about leadership lessons with enthusiasm in a suit and tie

Something good happened recently: I joined a swimming club and managed to get through training without overdoing it. You might be wondering what all the fuss is about, but for me it really was great.

I was born in a place called Tokaimura, a small coastal village in Ibaraki Prefecture that is battered by the rough waves of the Pacific Ocean, and I grew up loving to swim. We moved to Mito City when I was in my last years of elementary school, and because this city was the birth of the suihu school, a traditional Japanese style of swimming, they put a lot of effort into swimming instruction.

I joined the swimming club in junior high school, and then I also joined the local swimming club, so I practiced every day. In my second year of junior high, I took part in the national junior high school championships. In my third year, I was unbeatable in the prefecture in the breaststroke event. I broke all of the junior high records. In high school, I came in sixth and won a coveted prize in the national sports festival. In college, I was part of both the competitive swim team and the water polo club. I was so into swimming that I seriously aimed for a spot in the Olympics, and during my third year of junior high school, I even got a buzz cut called “Gorin gari” in an attempt to associate myself with Olympics (Gorin).

A few years ago, my junior high school classmates and I got together in Mito to dig up a time capsule we had buried as junior high school students 20 years ago.

I had completely forgotten what I had buried; I was so excited I couldn’t wait to find out. Actually, it was a swimming journal in which I had kept records of my daily practice sessions and berated myself over how much more I need to improve my time to win. This swimming log had been in the time capsule for the last twenty years. Discovering it felt a little anticlimactic, but at the same time, I remembered how I was completely crazy about swimming at the time, and then recalled how swimming had been the only thing I thought about.

Recently, while I have been studying sports science and fluid mechanics, I’ve started to think that if I had had a better coach and had trained in Osaka or Tokyo, I might have learned to swim faster. I feel this way because the training I had at the time was very pre-modern. Of course, even if I had been able to swim faster, no one can tell whether it would have changed my life, so in the end it’s all just ifs and buts. I don’t have any regrets, but sometimes I wonder.

At any rate, I grew up with swimming in my life throughout junior high school, high school and university. But when I turned 20, I retired from it, so to speak, and after that I rarely swam seriously. Twenty years later, in 2004, I made a rash resolution for the new year.

I promised myself that I would participate in this year’s Japan Masters Championships (a senior event, divided into age groups).

Despite a 20-year hiatus, I had decided to try for a comeback as a competitive swimmer. During this time I had always taken time to swim during business trips, but entering a swimming competition is a completely different kettle of fish. I had tried to get in shape by swimming a couple of years ago and had almost joined a swimming club, but I was completely exhausted after just one training session. I was on my back for a week after that. My body simply was not up to it. Yet in this condition I had the audacity to swear that I would prepare and participate in the Masters Championships. I actually wrote it down and then, in order to be a man of my word, pledged out loud in front of everybody that I would do it.

A couple of years ago, I declared that within a year I would reach the first dan of the game Go. That also was a tall order, but it was a mental feat; this would be a physical challenge. How would my body hold up?

So, I started to swim two or three times a week. Having a goal makes you far more focused. I made a plan building up to the Masters Championships in July and began serious training. I kept up swimming even when I was away on business.

I could really feel my muscles starting to firm up, and I was getting back that feeling of slicing through the water. Practicing by myself, I managed to swim 1,000 meters again. So despite feeling nervous, I decided to participate in the same swimming club where I had experienced a setback the last time. I was a little anxious. Would I be able to keep it up? Would I wear myself out as I had done the last time around?

The practice started.

It had been a while since I had done any interval training. When I got tired of the crawl, I switched to the breaststroke, and when I got tired of that, I switched to the back stroke. Finally, I was able to do three rounds of 200 meters, which completely wore me out. I put in a total of 2,400 meters during the session. I was so happy that I pumped my fist in victory and then and lay back in the water, relieved.

In the following week, not only did my body hold up well, but also I managed to swim 1,000 meters on two separate occasions. My muscles are clearly starting to develop, and at this rate I am beginning to feel that I might well be able to make my new year’s resolution of entering the Masters a reality.

Every now and then I think about how much swimming contributed to the formation of my character. Since junior high school I have pushed myself to the limit. I have challenged myself physically as far as possible, and have also gained the mental attitude for winning. Swimming has nurtured in me the courage to be on the big stage.

I feel that experiences at a young age are still alive when you go out into the world. Until I got into swimming I could never really keep anything up for long. However, once I started swimming I became able to concentrate, set goals, and feel the joy of achieving those goals. I trained both mentally and physically. I am so grateful to swimming for all this.

I have a small dream. I don’t know whether there is an international competition of the Masters Championships, or whether there are any world records for each age group, but if so, someday I would like to win an international tournament and set a new world record. Maybe when I’m in my 80s, 90s, or even over 100. It seems like being able to set a new world record might mean even more at that age than as a young competitor. It would be a testament to how one has managed to live a healthy life into a ripe old age.

As I entertain these idle thoughts, it is already past midnight. My 42nd birthday has arrived. I have gained yet another year, but I would be delighted if, through swimming, I am able to remain physically young as I grow older. From now on I’ll treat everyday as a gift and keep the fire burning bright throughout my life.

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