Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame 2023: Determination, max effort keys to Walter Imahara’s career

Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame: Walter Imahara achieved weightlifting feats by looking forward
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Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on the 2023 inductees into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies are July 29 in Natchitoches.

Never look back. That’s not where you’re going.

If anyone had a reason to look back and wonder why things were as they appeared, Walter Imahara had a reason.

Imahara is a Japanese-American citizen who was born on Valentine’s Day 1937 in Sacramento, California. When he was 4 years old, Japan attacked the U.S. Navy fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the United States into World War II.

Shaken by the attack, U.S. officials ordered all West Coast citizens of Japanese descent to be moved inland to “work camps” for the duration of the war.

“My family was kept in a concentration camp for 2½ years during the war,” Imahara said. “They called them relocation centers, but they were camps.”

Conditions were less than acceptable, but the family with nine children adapted.

“One bit of Japanese philosophy is that we never look back,” Imahara said. “We always had a quiet determination to better ourselves, even though we didn’t have anything.

“We got that philosophy from our parents. Education was stressed to all my brothers and sisters, and myself,”

He added, “Japanese-Americans comprise one-half of 1 percent of the population, and we have one of the lowest crime rates, highest rates of education, and lowest rates of marriage failure passed down.”

Strengthened by that outlook, Imahara sought his path in life. His incredible journey has carried him into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame along with the 2023 induction class.

The family moved to New Orleans, then to Baton Rouge after the war. Imahara graduated from Istrouma High School in 1955.

He found LSU students unaccepting, however, so he headed to Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette), where he discovered two things — weightlifting and horticulture — that would steer his course for the rest of his life.

“The people at LSU looked at you funny,” Imahara said. “When I went to SLI, I got a good feeling from the beginning. People there weren’t prejudiced.”

In college, a chance meeting with Mike Stansbury prompted Imahara to try the sport of weightlifting.

“Mike asked me if I’d like to try it, and I did,” Imahara said.

In his first meet, competing as a bantamweight, Imahara pressed 130 kilograms (kg), snatched 125 and had a clean and jerk of 170 for a modest 425 total that placed second.

It lit a fire that led to national collegiate individual titles in 1957, 1959 and 1960 as well as team titles for the Ragin’ Cajuns.

He was the first athlete to receive a letter in his sport. When he received his degree in agriculture and horticulture, he was introduced as the school’s first “Asian Cajun.”

He kept competing after college, wedging competition into his service in the U.S. Army after college. His sense of citizenship and duty helped him to serve the nation that packed him off to work camps, achieving the rank of lieutenant.

In competition, Imahara won the U.S national title six times from 1962-68, and won the Pan American Games gold medal.

Imahara retired from the sport, then returned in 1980 at the masters level, where he won 25 gold medals in U.S. competition, 10 more golds in World Masters and 16 golds in the Pan American Games.

He competed until 2005, capping a remarkable lifting career that began almost by chance.

“Everything has a beginning and an ending,” Imahara said, “And there are cutoff points to each phase of one’s life. The Japanese believe in completions and in making the maximum effort possible in each phase as you live it. When you have completed that phase, you move on to another phase of your life.”

To many, Imahara is as well-known for his horticulture career as he is for weightlifting. He has created three remarkable Japanese-American gardens in St. Francisville guided by Imahara Landscape and Nursery in Baton Rouge,

Imahara and wife Sumile have traveled the world, eager to discover new horizons.

One prized acquisition is an Imahara family monument, found in a church yard in Hiroshima, Japan, undamaged by the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on that city to help end World War II.

The same war that dislodged the Imahara family and sent them — and Walter — to their destiny.

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About Marc Lemoine 1470 Articles
Marc is an Economist and a well experienced weightlifter who has won many championships. He intends to build a bright career in the media industry as well. He is a sports freak who loves to cover the latest news on sports, finance and economy.

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