HONOLULU (KHON2) — He was one of Hawaii’s great athletes, and just as big as his passion for swimming, his passion for helping others learn the important skill. The legacy Bill Woolsey leaves behind as an Olympic gold medalist and community servant, is one that his grandson looks to continue.
Bill Woolsey passed away Saturday, June 25 in California at the age of 87. The Oahu native and President William McKinley High School alum was a two-time Olympian — taking gold at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Finland in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay.
He then won silver at the 1956 games in Melbourne, Australia in the same event. In those summer games, he finished sixth in the 100-meter freestyle.
“People don’t know that he was in the Olympics when he was 17 years old,” his grandson Ikaika Woolsey said. “So it’s pretty crazy. I can’t remember what I was doing when I was 17 years old.”
The mango didn’t fall too far from the tree. Ikaika quarterbacked the University of Hawaii football team from 2012 to 2016. He used Bill’s medals as motivation growing up, leading him to lead the Rainbow Warriors behind center.
“He definitely showed them to us when were younger, you know, he had his little case and stuff like that,” Ikaika said. “I mean, obviously, granted the 52-56 Olympics doesn’t look like the gold medals from nowadays and it’s still pretty cool.”
Bill also taught Ikaika how to swim, something he did for many others at the Kaneohe District Park or even at his own home in Kaneohe.
“Everything was about pretty much that he wanted to give back to the community, and teaching someone how to swim — teaching people how to swim because that’s all he knew,” explained Ikaika. “And that’s what he loved to do. So, a lot of people don’t know my grandfather taught swimming all the way up until about 70 — 72 years old.”
Now Ikaika and the family are planning to take Bill out to rest where he loved to be: the water on Oahu’s east side.
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As Bill served the community, so is Ikaika. He is about two years into his career on the force with the Honolulu Police Department.