In celebration of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, The Stark Center would like to recognize the career of weightlifter Walter Imahara. Like so many other families of Japanese heritage, the Imahara family was relocated to an internment camp during WWII while Walter was only six years old. In 1955, Imahara began classes at Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and because his physique resembled that of famous American lifter Tommy Kono (a fellow Japanese American who had been interred with his family at Tule Lake), he was recruited to join the collegiate competition weightlifting team. At the 1957 National Collegiate Championships, Imahara won his weight class with a press of 205 pounds, a snatch of 185 pounds, clean and jerk of 255 pounds, for a total of 645 pounds. He weighed in at 126 pounds in the featherweight class. The SLI weightlifting team won its first national team title. Imahara became the first national champion in school history and the team win was the first national title in school history. By 1959, Imahara won Collegiate Nationals again and broke the national collegiate records in the 132-pound class with a snatch of 210 pounds, clean and jerk of 275 pounds, and a total of 695 pounds. Later that year, Imahara won the Junior National Championship in the 132-pound class with a press of 205 pounds, a snatch of 210 pounds, and a clean and jerk of 265 pounds. He was told to take an extra attempt in the snatch and completed a lift of 221.5 pounds, setting a Jr. National record that stood for many years.On July 31, 1959, Imahara competed at Senior Nationals where he placed second to Ike Berger, Olympic and World Champion. His lifts totaled 700 pounds. While in York, Pennsylvania for the competition, Imahara met Tommy Kono, who began to mentor the 22-year-old Walter. In 1960, Imahara won his third National Collegiate Championship with a press of 220 pounds, a snatch of 215 pounds, and a clean and jerk of 285 pounds. As a featherweight at 132.25 pounds, Imahara broke four National Collegiate records and won the Best Lifter trophy. Imahara won Senior National Titles in 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968. In 1967, he won the gold medal at the Pan-American Games with a press of 248 pounds, a snatch of 231.5 pounds, a clean and jerk of 297 pounds, and a total of 776.5 pounds. Imahara has also had a tremendous career in the Masters competitions, holding 42 World Masters-Masters Games records. He has been a longtime friend to Jan and Terry Todd and to The Stark Center. He is the author of the book Walter Imahara: The Life and Times of a Japanese American Champion and, with David Meltzer, he edited the book Jerome and Rohwer: Memories of Japanese American Internment in World War II Arkansas.
May 15, 2023October 30, 2023