A look into the life of the Pacific's Father of Swimming
This week Oceania Swimming celebrates the UN’s International Volunteer Day, celebrating volunteers all around us who come to our assistance in times of need, help save lives and support people so that they can live their lives in dignity.
Sport relies on volunteers to spread their knowledge and passion to communities. They are the parents, teachers, family members and community that bring their excitement onto the field.
Today, we turn to a different corner of the Pacific: Micronesia. This large geographical area is home to a third of our member federations and there is one key volunteer that has been instrumental in all things swimming there.
Many refer to Bill Sakovich as the “Father of Swimming” in Micronesia, a pioneer in the region spreading the love of the sport throughout the islands.
“I first met Bill back in 1979 at the South Pacific Games in Suva - but only briefly. He was sailing Hobie 16s then but also had a role with his swim team,” said FINA Vice President and Oceania Swimming President, Dennis Miller. “Our meetings became more frequent over the years at South Pacific Games swimming and OSA events, plus at World Champs and Olympics.”
There is no doubt that Bill has contributed to more than just swimming. He has served as an Executive Board Member for South Pacific Games (now Pacific Games Council) from 1995 – 2003 and re-established the Micronesian Games Council and the Games, serving as President from 1988 – 2002.
His passion for sports is clear the moment you meet Bill, who can tell you the history of the games at the drop of a hat. Yet swimming is where his heart is.
Bill first came to Saipan in the 1973 as a bank manager, but ended up with an entire volunteer career on the side. He and his wife, Jean, started a swim club that would hold practice in the kidney shaped hotel pools if the beach was too busy. He made a sport which normally is thought to need a fancy pool and starting blocks accessible to groups of potential swim stars by finding anywhere to practice. Bill’s collection of makeshift pools over the years reflect the difficulties in finding decent training areas, a barrier he was able to overcome with perseverance and creativity.
Interesting enough, access to facilities is still a barrier in the Pacific today, and many new federations look into the history books of Bill’s work to create innovative ideas to help them move forward.
After Bill left Saipan in 2004, he continued to coach high school swimming at Waiakea High in Hilo. He was with Hilo Aquatic Club until recently but still can’t get enough of swimming, substitute coaching when needed.
Every year in February Bill returns to Saipan to help organise two major triathlons, the SAIPAN TAGMAN Triathlon and the XTERRA Championships, both held annually on Saipan, of which he was one of the three founders.
Coaches and swim clubs request his assistance time and time again, due to his wealth of knowledge but also his approachable nature.
“What I find most impressive about Bill is his friendly, sincere personality - always accepting, motivating and helping everyone who he met throughout his sporting career and there were many, from athletes, coaches and administrators, families and friends,” said President of PNG Swimming Inc, Liz Wells. “I find him to possess a very pleasant and cheerful disposition with a collected sense of responsibility, discipline, dedication and commitment to not only his team of athletes but to all those around him. In the time I have known him I have certainly been impressed with his honesty, sincerity and being a great friend to all.”
While Micronesia is where Bill called home for decades, his work in Polynesia is certainly noteworthy. For the last 10 years, he has been assisting American Samoa and Samoa Swimming prepare athletes, provide coaching assistance and run FINA clinics. His most recent coaching role was with Samoa at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas.
Bill volunteers his time to FINA 2-3 times a year running clinics for them, starting back in 2007 in Polynesia running a FINA Development Swim Clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa preparing swimmers for the Pacific Games and most recently in 2016 in Samoa and Palau.
It’s no wonder Bill was recently selected into the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame.
“I would thank him for just being him, a friend to all. Thank you for being you,” said Wells.
For all the swim fans out there, you’ll be able to meet this legend at the Oceania Championships next June in PNG. He is currently dedicating his time to organise a team from Hawaii.