I’m certainly glad that Hawaii’s own Michelle Wie was able to win her first professional tournament while on the LPGA circuit.
Wie has brought much attention to the sport of golf and has become one of the marquee performers, along with Tiger Woods.
Here in Hilo we have our very own living legend of golf. Someone that has shot four aces (holes in ones) and three eagles during their lifetime and continues to shoot his age.
Every weekend at the Hilo Municipal Golf Course you can find the man who is thought to be the oldest golfer on the Big Island firing away from the “white tee.”
Thomas “Chicken” Imanaka turned 91 on Sunday, but you wouldn’t be able to tell just by looking at him.
“I was playing golf three times a week until my Tuesday partner got sick,” Imanaka said. “Now I play just two times a week, every Saturday and Sunday, at Hilo Muni.”
To add to his fitness routine Imanaka will walk for 30 minutes four or five times per week, usually around the three school campus at the Waiakea complex.
“I used to walk a lot more, but my doctor told me I was doing too much and that I should cut back. My doctor said that at my age 30 minutes per day is plenty,” he said.
Imanaka’s good health at such an advanced age might come as a surprise for those that knew him while he was in high school. “I was sickly during my high school years and my mother was always taking me to the doctor,” he said.
“I was supposed to have graduated from Hilo High in 1937, but my illnesses caused me to graduate in 1939.”
Imanaka was a late bloomer in the fitness world as he didn’t discover the value of aerobic until age 50. “For 25 years, from 50 to age 75, I would run every day after work and then I’d play golf every weekend,” he said.
At age 75 Imanaka changed from running to walking to lessen the impact on his joints and he is recognized by many of the teachers and staff at Waiakea, where he walks nearly every afternoon.
“I’m not 100 percent healthy,” Imanaka said. “I have some health problems, but if I compare myself to my friends 5 years younger, they’re all gone. It’s getting lonely as most of the people I grew up with have all passed away.”
One of Imanaka’s health problems came five years ago when he contracted shingles. “I was misdiagnosed and never got the shot that would have helped me get rid of shingles,” he said. “I still suffer from the pain and burning sensation. It’s with me every day.”
To ease the discomfort associated with shingles Imanaka will cut the kukui nut and rub the juice on the affected areas. “The kukui nut remedy provides some temporary relief, but I need to be careful as it stains my clothes,” he said.
Imanaka has made friends with golfing partners that are 10 years younger than him as the sport continues to bring him much joy.
“I still use the white tee and golf has become more of a pitch and putt game for me. If my head is in the game I play well, if it’s not then my game is off,” he said.
And this 91-year old man can still shoot his age. “On a good day I can shoot 90,” he said. “It all depends on my short game.”
Imanaka believes that mental attitude has a lot to do with golf and happiness in life. “What you think, matters in life. For me I don’t make any excuses. There are days I don’t feel like walking, but I go out for a walk anyway.”
Imanaka starts each morning with a stretching exercise for his legs. “Before I get out of bed in the morning I grab a nylon strap and place it around an ankle and gently stretch one leg, before switching to the other.”
“As we age we lose our flexibility,” he said. “Stretching is real important and I’ve told all my friends that they should try to do it each day.”
For breakfast Imanaka will have a half papaya with a slice of whole wheat toast spreading some fruit jelly or jam over the bread. He will also drink a glass of fruit juice. “I gave up caffeine about 50 or 60 years ago and I don’t each much meat,” he said.
Married to his wife, Motomi, for nearly 60 years the Imanaka’s are self-reliant and active members in the community.
I’m always impressed whenever I see Mr. Imanaka walking around the Waiakea Complex as this man looks and acts 20 to 30 years younger than he really is.
Imanaka serves as an inspiration to many of us in the community who can appreciate the aging process and see firsthand the value of taking good care of ourselves.
It takes effort, on our part, in order to age well. We need to exercise and stretch each day, we need to watch what we eat and not over eat and we need to maintain a positive attitude about life and those around us.
People like Thomas “Chicken” Imanaka can show us the results and the value of good health well into our 80’s and 90’s.
Happy Birthday Mr. Imanaka and may you have many more healthy and happy birthdays celebrated on the golf course.