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Associate Coach Raises Funds For Disaster Relief

Kunio Kono and Mr. Nakano, President of the Japan Swimming Academy.

Oct. 13, 2011


Photo Gallery of Kunio in Japan

Sage Sammons, UNLV Athletic Media Relations -

When earthquakes and tsunamis hit Japan about six months ago, the world mourned with the country. But after a couple weeks, journalists had moved onto different stories.

Residents, however, had to restart their lives. And many of them had to do so without jobs, personal items and in severe cases, their loved ones. They needed help getting back to the life they had before the catastrophic events and doing the things they enjoyed before, like taking a swim in the pool.

That's where UNLV associate swimming head coach Kunio Kono wanted to help.

"I read in the newspaper that after March 11, they had an earthquake and a tsunami," said Kono. "I saw a picture of some kids that wanted to swim but behind them their pool was destroyed. So I knew that I wanted to do something."

Kono began the process of fundraising and used his connections to help come up with a considerable donation. When it was all said and done, he raised over $15,000 to help with the relief. Initially it started with the swimming camps that he hosts over the summer.

"I started thinking about it and doing fundraising for it," said Kono. "I usually do a couple camps every summer and I do swim lessons and clinics. So I thought I would donate all my summer money, whatever I made, to those kids. I committed three and half months to do that."

"From my summer camps, I had a great camp with the Canadian masters, which we do every year," said Kono. "We started a kid's camp, just for this donation. I also had private lessons too. I ended up making around 8,200 through those donations."

Beyond the swimming camps, Kono went through his wife's (Miho Kawabe) company, Cirque du Soleil, to see if they could help with anything. They then came up with the idea of making sushi before one of the shows and giving it to people going to the show.

"We went through the "O" Japanese restaurant and asked for food donations to make sushi," said Kono. "We ended up getting a lot of food donations and made over 150 rolls to give out before a showing one day. We said that everyone could eat free, but any donations would be greatly appreciated. We ended up making $2,500 for that. It ended up being a great success."

"One of the shows for Cirque du Soleil, which is a traveling show, has a graduate of UNLV that is a trainer for the show," said Kono. "So I called her and she said wanted to help. She asked around and in two weeks time, she was able to raise $2,900."

But once all the money was raised, Kono had to figure out how to donate the money properly 7,000 miles away. Again, Kono turned to his wife.

"Once I saw the picture of the children in front of the damaged swimming pool, I showed my wife, and she knew the swimming club," Kono said. "It turned out that the swimming club owner was the head of the Japanese Federation synchronized swimming when my wife was apart of the team when they made the Olympics in 1996."

Kono was able to contact him and they worked together to set up a place where the money could be donated. The biggest condition that Kono had was that the money needed to benefit the children.

"I told him they could do anything they want with the money, but the bottom line was that it needed to help the kids in some way," said Kono. "He was very appreciative and emailed a few weeks later saying that a portion of the money went straight to that swim club that was damaged. Another part of the portion would go to that state's swimming federation. So we made up a few different checks and on September 10, I went over to Japan."

While in Japan, Kono was able to drive around and see many different places that were hurt by the natural disaster. He was also able to talk to some of the kids that inspired him to raise the money.

"The kids all told me stories of surviving the tsunami and the earthquake," said Kono. "Some kids lost their family, friends or siblings, but they still try to be positive, even six months after the disaster. I told them that I just came here to meet with them and that the money came from all over the world, not just from the U.S. They were all very excited and I was grateful to meet those kids."

Kono was able to see his hard work go to a good cause because of the smiles on the children's' faces. But through the process, he had some reservations.

"One thing I was afraid of was asking too much and they wouldn't donate," said Kono. "But people came through and they trusted me that it would go to a great cause. I told everyone that I was personally going to Japan, meeting people there and giving them the money."

"The money is one thing and it is great, but the support from everyone was spectacular. I really appreciate everyone that was involved in this process."

Through the charity of many people, those kids will be able to return to something they love to do. They get to escape from the problems the natural disaster had caused them and just swim. But now some are swimming for different reasons.

"One child to me she had lost a sister, and she loved swimming, so she showed up at the pool and said she was going to swim for her sister," said Kuno. "So she really wanted this pool open. Others told me they came from hours away just to swim because all the other pools had been destroyed. Swimming isn't really a sport for those people anymore; it's a bigger part of their life."



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