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“Penguin’s” lifelong dream inspires Hawaii women

March 26, 2009 10:43 AM
Do you know the Penguin?

By Carrie Rupp

Eunice Hashimoto doesn’t have much in common with penguins – starting with the fact that she lives in Naalehu, Hawaii, the southernmost town in the United States – a town with a climate completely opposite of Antarctica – the most common home of penguins. But ever since she can remember, she’s been called “Penguin” because of her bowlegs and her walk, which resembles the shuffle of one of the Arctic’s most beloved inhabitants.

Five years ago, Hashimoto underwent a double knee replacement and her Penguin walk was no more. Although she didn’t miss her penguin walk, what she did miss during her recovery was tennis. And getting back on the court was her number one goal and her main motivation.

The 73-year-old Hashimoto has been playing tennis for 30 years and she’s participated in USTA Leagues for the last 15. Hashimoto got started playing tennis because of a “lack of available recreational activities” in her small town. This void forces her to travel great distances in order to play the sport.

After a year-long recovery period, Hashimoto achieved her goal and she began playing tennis again. Currently, she travels 65 miles one-way to the town of Hilo to play with her current team, a 3.0 Senior women’s team.

Team captain Nancy Kelly says Hashimoto, “a crafty player,” was once a member of the opposition they faced in past league play. But when it was time for Kelly and her tennis teammates to turn 50 and participate in the Senior League program, they recruited Hashimoto to join their “ohana” – the Hawaiian word for “family”.

“Eunice always keeps us happy, smiling and laughing,” Kelly said. “She’s our inspiration. Whenever we have aches or pains, we say if Eunice can persevere, so can we. No excuses!”

After winning at their local level, the women from Hilo and Hashimoto prepared for their Section Championship in Kona. Prior to the event, the team sat down to discuss their goals.

“Eunice spoke up. She said reaching the National Championships was her lifelong dream,” Kelly said. “We all agreed we’d embrace her dream and make it our own. We wanted to reach Nationals for Eunice and for each other.”

On the back of a 73-year-old’s lifelong dream, the women played spirited tennis at their Section Championship to claim the title and a trip the national championships where Hashimoto and her teammates found themselves competing against women from 16 other USTA sections. The experience for Hashimoto has been nothing short of memorable.

“It’s terrific! No words can explain. It has been just terrific,” Hashimoto said. “Meeting the other teams, seeing how they play, how they treat everyone, their personalities. Everyone has been so friendly.”

And the location didn’t hurt at all.

Kelly added Hashimoto has a strong affection for the slot machines so Las Vegas was the perfect destination for the team.

Although their run at the National Championship has come to an end, the women are going to enjoy their time in Sin City – touring “The Strip” and seeing a show. After all, to these women having fun and enjoying time as friends and as a family is the ultimate success.

“Our team looks out for each other, we support each other and we help each other. Our love for each other and for the sport comes directly from our heart,” Kelly said. “And we’re all just so happy Eunice is a part of this team – our ohana.”

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