When it was briefly decreed that “Warriors” would thereafter be the University of Hawaii’s sole athletic nickname, striking the word “Rainbow,” K. Mark Takai flew into action to help force reconsideration.
When there was talk of cutting some UH sports due to mounting deficits, the then-state representative proposed a one-time fund to match public donations with state money.
Why, U. S. Rep. Takai was asked, did he expend so much effort and energy on UH causes when, as a legislator, he had any number of issues to deal with?
The answer always came back to what he took to be a heart-felt and long-standing debt. Receiving a swimming scholarship to UH, Takai maintained, opened so many doors for him that he felt honor-bound to pay it back whenever he could.
Takai, who died Wednesday at the too-young age of 49 following a nine-month bout with pancreatic cancer, was as relentless on UH’s behalf in public service as he had been in the pool.
A four-year member of the Rainbows’ swim team, he went on to earn two degrees from UH where he also served as ASUH President and an editor of the campus paper, Ka Leo. Later he would be an officer in the Letterwinner’s Club, serve on the Athletic Advisory Board and Alumni Association.
“UH was — and will always be — a big part of my life,” Takai often said, proudly introducing himself as, “a Rainbow through and through.”
It was easy for people who hadn’t known him to write off Takai’s zeal for UH issues as the case of just another politician trying to grab some face time in the spotlight. But Takai’s interest was both earnest and early on.
Jan Prins, one of his UH coaches, said in an email, “What I recall most with Mark as a team member was his persistence in looking for ways to work with the athletic department to better assist the swim team … always a challenge given the ‘second tier’ attention that is part of the lot of a ‘non-revenue’ sport.”
Prins wrote, “There were times when his tenacity prompted more than one call to me from (athletic director) Stan Sheriff, wondering why ‘this freshman’ was so intent on doing whatever he can to get more attention paid to the swim team.”
In time Sheriff would become a good friend and mentor, even calling upon Takai, after graduation, to help the department and ASUH mediate contentious issues over student seating and ticket prices.
Sheriff, as was the case with many who dealt with Takai in the early UH days, saw someone destined for something special.