SHREVEPORT – When Seiichiro Takei set foot in Shreveport for the first joint weightlifting camp between Japan and LSUS in 2009, he viewed himself in very certain terms.
“My passion was trying to get good results in weightlifting and good grades in school – that was my identity,” Takei said. “But I was missing the most important thing – LIFE. When I came here, I realized that. There were so many people who were better than me at weightlifting, and I was just an Asian guy who couldn’t speak English that well.” Takei kept coming back – three times as a college athlete before moving to Shreveport to pursue a master’s degree in kinesiology and wellness.
Takei revisited the LSUS campus in February 2024 as a coach reviving the joint camp between the University and Japan, the first since 2020. Five Japanese college weightlifters and two coaches spent a week in Shreveport intending to improve their weightlifting technique, work on their English skills, and expand their cultural perspectives.
“I lost my identity when I came here, but I realized that being nice, honest, polite – the most simple things, were the most important things in life,” says Takei who finished his LSUS master's in 2015 and returned to Japan to coach and obtain his doctorate.
“My experience here changed my perspective and mindset about life. I think that’s because the culture here is different. Here, I feel like people don’t judge other people. Everybody has different goals and mindsets, and you can make your own path.”
During their Monday visit, the LSUS Olympic Development Center had a worldly feel as lifters from Japan, Ghana, Hawaii, Louisiana, Florida, and New Jersey slung the iron over their heads. One LSUS student is Muslim, lifting with a hijab head covering. The majority of lifters in the weight room were female, including three of the five athletes from Japan. Japanese coach Tomoko Kato has accompanied lifters to every camp at LSUS.
The weight room would fall silent whenever a lifter attempted a difficult lift, followed by phrases of encouragement in multiple languages that flowed as the multi-colored weights went skyward."
There’s something about sport,” said LSUS professor and weightlifting coach Dr. Kyle Pierce. “There’s a universal language within each sport, and even though everybody is from different parts of the world speaking different languages, they are all doing the same training and compete in the same competitions. “We’ve had close to 80 (Japanese) athletes participate overall, but this has also been a training ground for coaches. It exemplifies the Olympic spirit."
In addition to weightlifting, Japanese athletes participate in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and get a taste of Louisiana culture in the process. The camp has always been in February, and Mardi Gras parades are a highlight of the cultural menu. “This camp is unique in that they train to improve performance, but the cultural exchange is so important,” Take said. “Our athletes stay with host families, and it’s a chance to use their language skills and broaden perspectives in talking to people from different cultures and nations."
“We have a lot of fun. We go shopping, and we always go to Mardi Gras every year.”
Takei’s focus on others surfaced during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Coaches typically load the weights onto the bar during competition, but Pierce, who was coaching an athlete from Ghana, wasn’t in a physical condition to do so. So Takei pitched in and helped Pierce load weights and coach the athlete.
“You had one American and one Japanese guy coaching a weightlifter from Ghana,” Pierce laughed. While normal camps typically bring double-digit weightlifters and last for multiple weeks, the 2024 version is a step to rekindle a beneficial and collegial relationship.
“I’m glad we got to start it again, and I hope it continues,” Pierce said.