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UT Athlete Goes the Distance

Published: September 02, 2005

Story by Paul Martello/Sports Information Director

Being a student and an athlete is extremely demanding of one’s time. Imagine the effort is takes to play three sports at the collegiate level and maintain a grade point average of 3.76. Now add a full student-teaching load to the schedule. The commitment to succeed and persevere is in Yoshiko Ozawa’s blood.

The University of Tampa senior has seen her parents do just that while living thousands of miles apart for the past 20 years. Her father, Masashi, is of Japanese descent. He enjoyed a great deal of success as a professional wrestler in the WWF and as a sumo wrestler in his native country. He has lived in Japan since ending his wrestling career in the States in the early 1980s. Cindy, Yoshiko’s mother, has persisted as a single parent devoting her life to her three children while living in Tampa.

Yoshiko’s parents were introduced by her mother’s friend while Masashi was in the U.S. on a business trip. They are still married, even though they haven’t seen each other for two decades. Masashi left for Japan when Yoshiko was 4 years old. He owns a restaurant and helps his family financially; he just doesn’t see them a whole lot.

“My father’s career was always in Japan,” Ozawa said. “From the time he was 11 years old until he was 24, he was raised at the sumo stables. It’s always been his home. He’s really big into their customs. He respects his country and honors the traditions extremely well.”

Yoshiko’s mother is the special person in her life. They talk almost every day. When Yoshiko, her sister Yukie, and her brother David were younger, Cindy was the caretaker. She got up every morning and made a hot breakfast for the kids, then packed all of them a great lunch before driving her children to school. Since all of her children were involved in sports, Cindy was the taxi driver after school, carting one child to practice here, another there…picking up one child, then the next. Her children are her life, and she did it all out of love.

“My mother was always on the go. She felt that her life should be devoted to her children,” Ozawa commented. “I’ve become a better person because of what she has taught me, and I want to treat my children based on the examples she showed me.”

Jellyfish Salad and Horsemeat

Yoshiko admits that her family life isn’t what most would call normal, but her parents love and care for each other and talk once a week, always about the children. As for Yoshiko, she speaks to her dad four times a year and writes him letters.

“Although I don’t see him, he’s always been supportive. He is a father who cares and would always do anything for his children,” Ozawa said.

Yoshiko has made four trips to Japan, seeing her father for a couple of months total since he moved away from the family. Once she graduates in May, she will travel to Tokyo to visit him. Some of her favorite memories of her previous trips revolve around eating Japanese cuisine.

“My father eats anything in front of him,” Ozawa said. “When I go over there, I can’t read the menu, so my father always says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll surprise you.’ I’ve eaten things like live octopus, jellyfish salad and horsemeat.”

The trip is very important to her, as she hopes to spend a lot of time with her father, learn the culture, and teach English. Teaching is something Yoshiko has grown to love. At first, she was an exercise science major at UT, but once she sat in on a one-hour observation with elementary students for a class requirement, she fell for the kids and the profession.

“I want to be a role model for my students and make their lives better,” Ozawa said. “My teachers and coaches have done that for me.”

Carrying a dean’s list GPA, she recently was nominated for Academic All-America status, an award that signifies her success in the classroom and athletics.

Playing No Favorites

Yoshiko has just completed her final season on the women’s basketball team. She also has been a successful Spartan volleyball and softball player. This isn’t unusual for her: She has played at least three sports since she was in fifth grade, and has played all of them well.

But she was not always a model student-athlete. While in high school at Berkeley Prep in Tampa, she focused on sports and did not know how to study. Yoshiko’s grades as a freshman and sophomore suffered, but as a junior, she became dedicated to academics, and the results are obvious. The devotion to succeed in school carried into college. In addition to her elementary education major, she has turned a lifelong affinity for painting, drawing, ceramics and sculpture into a minor in art at UT, tacking that onto an already hectic schedule.

While concentrating more on schoolwork, her commitment to athletics has never waned. Her accomplishments on the playing field also are obvious. As a high school senior, Yoshiko was named Tampa Tribune Athlete of the Year, and has played a major role in the success of each of the three teams she has participated on at the university. She always puts the team first, maybe something she learned from her mother’s selflessness.

“Playing sports helps you put the team before individual accomplishments. One player’s achievement is everyone’s success,” Ozawa said. “Playing sports here at UT has made me a better person because of my coaches. All of them want their players to benefit, not themselves.”

She has played for volleyball coach Chris Catanach and softball coach Leslie Kanter, and was guided by women’s basketball coach Tom Jessee. She doesn’t have a favorite coach, or even a favorite sport, but will take a little bit from all of her experiences with the different teams.

“Coach Catanach is a warm person, easy-going,” Ozawa described. “I’ll always come up to him and give him a hug. I know we’ll be friends for the rest of our lives. Coach Kanter has a lot of energy, more than most of her players. She always had a spark to her. I’m really happy Coach Jessee is the last coach I’ll play under. He has bestowed me with a lot of good advice. He’s very patient, and has made me a better person and a better player.”

The Top Priority

What will she do when her playing days are over?

“I’ll definitely have more time on my hands, but my career as a teacher will take up a lot of my time,” she said. “I’ll also spend more time with my family. I love them to death, but I feel like I’ve always put other priorities ahead of them. They are my top priority—I just need to show them that.”

It’s almost as if Ozawa feels she has been consumed with incidental aspects of her life and ignored the importance of her family, when in reality she has taken the work ethic instilled by her father and the selfless acts of her mother to become the successful person she is today. Really, her priorities have been in place all long.