Inspirational Hilo swimmer dies


By PETER SUR

Tribune-Herald staff writer

At a scholarship dinner last April, swimmer Peter Chi of Hilo stepped to a podium at the Stan Sheriff Center.

A breaststroke specialist, he accepted the Inspiration Award from the UH booster club, Ahahui Koa Anuenue, after surviving cardiac arrest in 2011 for a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

He apologized in advance for his brief remarks and thanked the foundation’s sponsors.

“I’d just like to say that, everybody, anything can happen to anybody,” Chi said in his acceptance speech, which was posted online. “And what you really have to do is you have to just live your life to the fullest, have no regrets, don’t take anything for granted because you never know.”

Chi, also known as Frank Chi, was a 2010 graduate of Waiakea High, a champion high school swimmer and a walk-on member of the UH swimming team. One day after competing in UH’s season-opening meet against BYU, Chi was found unresponsive in his dorm. He was taken to Straub Clinic and Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at the age of 19.

“Peter was an outstanding student athlete and even more importantly a great person,” UH swim coach Victor Wales said in a statement. “He was loved and respected by all his teammates and will forever have a place in our program.”

Waiakea High swim coach Bill Sakovich remembers that Chi was “hyperactive” and “just a wild kid” when Chi joined the team as a freshman, but Chi matured and was named one of the team’s captains. In January 2010 led the Waiakea Warriors to the Big Island Interscholastic Federation boys swimming title.

In that meet, Chi broke his own BIIF record in the 100 meter breaststroke at 58.61 seconds, and he placed second in two other events.

“I knew I could go hard and faster,” Chi told sports columnist Wayne Joseph at the time. “I just pushed myself both in practice and during the meets.”

“I can still go faster and I believe that if I work hard I can get my time under 58 seconds.” He finished second in the event at the state tournament.

“He made states every year he swam with us,” Sakovich said. “He was such a nice kid.” The coach said there was no sign that Chi had a heart problem while he was at Waiakea.

Chi enrolled at UH as a biology major and walked on to the team as a freshman.

According to the UH student newspaper Ka Leo, in late 2011 Chi went into cardiac arrest after swim practice. After being revived he was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome. This is a rare condition that interferes with the normal electric pathways of the heart rhythms, leading to a rapid heart rate. Chi spent two weeks in the hospital and underwent two catheter-based treatments to regulate his heart rhythm problems, Ka Leo said.

In his sophomore season, Chi qualified for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation swimming championships in three events. He placed 10th in the 100 meter breaststroke, setting a personal best with a time of 56.48 seconds.

During summer breaks Chi would return to Hilo and teach clinics for Sakovich’s students at the Hilo Aquatics Club.

“He’s a neat kid,” Sakovich said.

Chi is survived by his older sister Sharon and his father Robert Chi. Services are pending.

Email Peter Sur at psur@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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