Friday, June 27, 2014

Long live Tommy Kono then & now

Mention the name Tommy Kono around the world to weightlifters and bodybuilders alike and you’ll get immediate silence and open ears.  You’ll also observe jitters in the crowd in anticipation of what “pearls of wisdom” comes next from this Olympic weightlifting Sensei and Grand Master. 

In 2007, I had an opportunity to interview Mr. Kono. Click the following link to read this interview in its entirety: 

On Father’s Day 2014, I had another golden opportunity to interview this Olympic weightlifting legend.  Most interviews Mr. Kono grants and the ensuing articles written are about his instruction and perspectives of Olympic weightlifting, and the roads he has traveled over a six-decade weightlifting and bodybuilding journey. 

This interview takes a different approach.  I wanted to learn of his octogenarian reflections about living and dying, gracefully aging and trying his best to live a good and honest life; and share them with the world. 

So today, on Tommy Kono’s 84th birthday, pull up a chair, turn off the television, lower the music, tell the wife and children to be quiet, and give your undivided attention to what follows in this exclusive interview.

Pierini Fitness - Mr. Kono, thank you for this opportunity to interview you again.  It’s been seven years since we last did this.  How are you doing today, and what are your dreams and hopes as you approach your 84th year of life?   

Mr. Kono  Everything is going my way.  I’m very comfortable with the way things are going for me.  I’ve had a very full year thus far.  Father’s Day was very good.  My children called me.  My daughter and her family took me out and we had a nice dinner last evening.

People tell me I look good when I tell them how old I am.  My appearance may look good but, honestly, I’m worn out. 

I’m trying to get my personal affairs and belongings better organized than the past so when I pass on everything will be in order. 

Pierini Fitness - At this point in your life, are you still working hard in the gym trying to improve your strength and fitness?

Mr. Kono -  No (laugh) -  you know in the old days when I was young, I worked hard trying to improve my strength and fitness.  Later in life, my focus changed to trying to maintain.  Now my focus is trying to survive. 

Pierini Fitness - I know the last year has been challenging for you with the passing of your two older brothers within two weeks of each other.  What did those experiences teach you about living and dying and how you want to live the rest of your life?

Mr. Kono - I learned a lot from having to take care of my oldest brother.  In five months, I traveled from Hawaii to Sacramento five times to attend to his needs.  It seemed that no sooner than I returned after a trip that I had to go back again.  It wore me out and made me realize how I better get my affairs in better order so that when it’s my turn, my family will have peace of mind that it’s all been arranged and worked out for them.

I also learned that, like my deceased older brother, I have many belongings I need to part with so I’m working on passing them along.  It’s a little more challenging for me than it may have been for him or others because I have so many honors and other special memorabilia that I need to find good homes for rather than just trash.

I also learned from my experiences in caring for my older brother that I need to take care of myself.  With this realization, I recently stepped down from my volunteer duties with the Honolulu Marathon after 41 years; that wasn’t easy for me to do.  They still want me to stay involved with their Board of Directors.  I also recently resigned my leadership duties for the Hawaii Chapter of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), an organization I’ve been involved with for over 20 years. 

These departures taught me that eventually you need to drop out of things at some time.  In hindsight, it really wasn’t that hard to do.  I’m actually enjoying being more relaxed.  I should have done this long ago.

Pierini Fitness - Anti-aging is a popular term used these days to describe those wellness-oriented things we do to live a better and longer life.  This includes medical approaches such as hormone supplementation, plastic surgery, etc. and non-medical approaches such as diet, exercise and vitamin supplementation.  I prefer using the term gracefully aging rather than anti-aging. 

What pearls of wisdom can you share with us about your gracefully aging journey?

Mr. Kono - I personally think we’re living too long.  You have more problems as you get older.  I’m fortunate that I’ve survived this long.  I never thought I would live this long.

I agree with you; “gracefully aging” is a much better term than “anti-aging”.  The sooner you realize and recognize that you aren’t as young as you used to be then you’ll not be as much of a burden to anyone else. 

Some people are very vain when they are young and beautiful so it may be harder for them as they age and don’t look so young and beautiful.

I personally think aging is easier for men than women.  Women are “penalized” for being beautiful because it’s harder for them as they age when their youth and physical beauty are gone.  Men, on the other hand, can get away looking older than women.

Pierini Fitness - At this point in your life, how easy is it for you living a good and honest life and what does that mean to you?

Mr. Kono - I believe I’ve had lots of great experiences and have met many people in my travels to many foreign countries.

At this point in my life, I’d like to share my life experiences and words of wisdom because I know that once you’re gone, that’s it!  Sadly, many people may look at me as a “relic” because times have changed and some younger people may not understand what I’m talking about.  It’s hard to communicate with the younger generation.  I realize that I can’t force myself on people.

Pierini Fitness - You’ve written two books that have been well-received by the Olympic weightlifting community.  Might there be another book or other projects in the future? 

Mr. Kono - I have a couple of ideas.  One is to write a small booklet about how to serve as an Olympic weightlifting coach to world class and Olympic-caliber athletes.  The other is a small booklet about my life experiences and reflections because I believe I’ve lived an unusual life.

Pierini Fitness - One day we’ll sadly read Tommy Kono’s obituary.  Besides the obvious, what little trivia jewel about your life would you hope is included for the benefit of future generations of American Olympic weightlifters? 

Mr. Kono – It’s better to give than to receive so whatever I have to share, I know someone will appreciate it.  The other trivia jewels are in my books.

Pierini Fitness - What final words of wisdom do you have today for all the wise men listening?

Mr. Kono - People don’t want to be pushed but rather led.  If you push them too hard, they won’t do it.  That’s why eastern European Olympic weightlifting training methods have not worked in America.

Pierini Fitness - I thank you Mr. Kono, for being my friend and allowing Pierini Fitness to interview you.  I extend my prayers and best wishes to you and your family that the 84th year of your life brings you an abundance of good faith, family, fitness, fortune and health. So long as you live, when Tommy Kono speaks, wise men listen.

Long live Tommy Kono then & now.

Pax  Domini sit semper vobiscum