The Indomitable Tommy Kono: An Inspiring Story of Determination and Grit

Tommy Kono was born to Japanese immigrants in Seattle, Washington on July 10, 1934. He grew up in Hawaii where he became the first state high school record holder in the all-around. Winning three consecutive state championships in 1951-1953. In 1954 he earned a spot on the US Olympic Weightlifting. Team where he took home the gold medal in both the Snatch and Clean & Jerk. While setting new Olympic records in both lifts. This feat made him the youngest. Athlete ever to win an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting at the age of 19.

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Diagnosis and Treatment


Born in 1929 to a Japanese-Hawaiian family, Tommy Kono was diagnosed with type I diabetes at age six. In 1936, doctors predicted that he wouldn’t live past 15; by age 13, he had lost all but three toes on his left foot. By 1948, aged 19. He was part of an Olympic gold medal weightlifting team and by 1956. Became one of only a handful of people ever to hold six world records. In weightlifting (including a 200-pound clean & jerk). Then around 1962—after being dropped from his lifting team for reasons related to his moodiness—Kono. Converted to powerlifting and won five national titles during an eight-year period.

Life After Surgery


Many people say they’re not afraid to die—they just don’t want to be there when it happens. The morbid quip makes a very important point: People come in all shapes, sizes, ages, faiths, cultures, and demeanors; no two people fear death in exactly the same way. For example, one of my favorite stories about determination comes from an Olympic weightlifter named Tommy Kono. He was born without shinbones or fibulas—his ankles were as vulnerable as eggshells. And yet he became a weightlifting champion—winning gold medals at every Olympics between 1952 and 1960.

Characteristics That Made Him Great


Kono’s desire to succeed was fueled by his hardscrabble upbringing. With an absentee father who died when he was only 4 years old. His brother had died at birth and his mother worked two jobs to support her remaining four children. When he couldn’t afford to pay for college, Kono worked in construction before being drafted into World War II. While on a ship home after surviving 32 months in a Japanese POW camp. With typhoid fever weighing down his frail frame, some sailors started mocking him for being weak. It made him angry — so angry that he decided then and there that if he got out alive. He would become stronger than anyone else on Earth.

Why He Was a Leader in His Field


Lifting weights was more than just a way to keep fit for World War II veteran Tommy Kono. It was a form of self-expression that spoke to his identity, as he told CBS Sacramento. I think it is not a coincidence that I am in weightlifting, he said. It’s probably my only physical prowess because I’m kind of short and chunky. And weightlifting sort of made me feel good about myself. Weightlifting also gave him an outlet for frustration; when his draft number came up in 1942. He didn’t want to go into combat against Japan—but he couldn’t evade being conscripted by Japan himself.

Final Thoughts


It’s impossible to determine what challenges we will face in life. With determination, dedication, strength, and courage, we can take on anything that comes our way. The same qualities that made Tommy one of the greatest weightlifters of all time are now used. To inspire people across America through his work with Under Armour. He makes it a point to be a positive role model in his community by promoting. Health and fitness at every opportunity. By achieving success through hard work and grit, he has truly become an indomitable man. In order for us to realize our own potential as humans. We need only look at those around us for inspiration; there is something special about every single person who makes up our society! You are indomitable!

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