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Rick Hayashida knows about baby steps. After coaching high school football locally for 30-plus years, he’s familiar with building from the floor up.
Hayashida’s wife, Michelle, looked at him Friday afternoon as he laid in his hospital bed and asked: “What meal are you most looking forward to?”
“Drinking water,” he said.
Hayashida, 58, is one week removed from a 12-hour double lung transplant surgery after being diagnosed in July with interstitial lung disease, a condition that causes scarring of lung tissue. His hospital room at UCLA Medical looks over the Bruins’ athletic facilities, including Pauley Pavilion. His recovery has been speedy. He’s walking, talking and laughing, but he won’t be released until he passes the “swallow test.”
“Right now there’s a feeding tube straight to my stomach,” Hayashida said. “They need to make sure if I consume anything there’s no leakage into my lungs, which can cause problems.”
— coach hayashida (@rickhayashida) June 15, 2020
In spring of 2019, Hayashida was experiencing sickness that was thought to be bronchitis, then later walking pneumonia. In July at a Dodgers game, Michelle noticed Hayashida’s fatigue was abnormal.
“Rick is in great shape,” she said. “He can walk 36 (golf) holes in a day. When I saw him breathing heavy and having a hard time walking up the stairs, I knew something wasn’t right.”
Later that month, Hayashida was diagnosed with the lung disease and admitted to UCLA’s transplant program. His healthy habits and great physical shape seemed to have misdirected doctors, according to Michelle. After a multitude of tests, it was determined that Hayashida was operating on 20% lung capacity while still golfing and coaching football at Chatsworth High.
“He was still out there with an oxygen concentrator,” Michelle said with a laugh. “He had the thing strapped to his back.”
That image is the epitome of Hayashida’s relentless attitude and approach to coaching and teaching. It’s why former players, families and local coaches have overwhelmed Hayashida and his family with unconditional support.
“When you coach or teach, you don’t do it for the awards,” Hayashida said. “This has paid me back 1,000 times over in return.”
During the 2019 fall semester, Hayashida had to step down as the Chatsworth football coach. His condition simply wouldn’t let him continue. It also meant he couldn’t teach. He ran out of sick days and Michelle was worried.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I sent emails and posted on social media about it,” she said.
Within eight hours, the Chatsworth High School community of teachers and administration donated the max amount of 100 sick days to Hayashida.
“If there was no max, we’d have 300 sick days,” Michelle said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Rick came out of surgery early this morning. He has two new lungs! He is in positive spirits; already watched some golf. They let Michelle listen to his new lungs with a stethoscope. Amazing! She is breathing now too. Continued prayers and positive thoughts. #HayashidaStrong
— coach hayashida (@rickhayashida) June 15, 2020
Hayashida’s most notable coaching stint was at El Camino Real for more than 10 years. It was highlighted by a City Section championship in 1997. Former ECR football players Quincy Wright and Aaron Fredette have come from out of state to see their former coach.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a drive-by parade was organized in April for those who wanted to come and see Rick. One group of students waited an hour and 15 minutes to just wave to Hayashida because the line of cars was so long.
Michelle is at the hospital with Rick every day, all day, while their two children Ricky Jr., 22, and Emiko, 18, are at home. Another stop along Hayashida’s coaching journey was at Chaminade, which has started a meal train for the family.
“I’m with Rick all day and Chaminade is feeding my kids,” Michelle said in disbelief. “It’s nonstop and we are so thankful.”
The coach among coaches
Hayashida was on the Crespi coaching staff under Jon Mack and Troy Thomas. He coached the freshmen team and was able to coach his son.
“It was great to have a San Fernando Valley legend on our staff molding the younger teams and players,” Thomas said. “Rick is a players’ coach. All of his players love him. He was always smiling and so were the players.”
Sierra Canyon coach Jon Ellinghouse played football at Calabasas High in the late 1990s. Ellinghouse remembers when Hayashida coached him in a local all-star game.
“My mother was battling illness when I was in high school,” Ellinghouse said. “Rick’s coaching helped me through that. I have so much respect for him. He always has a smile on his face.”
— coach hayashida (@rickhayashida) June 13, 2020
Hayashida was an assistant at Chaminade in the early 1990s with current head coach Ed Croson.
“Rick is a hardworking, tough guy,” Croson said. “If there’s anyone that can come out from under his condition and procedure, it’s Rick Hayashida – he’s got the personality to do it.”
The support for Hayashida on social media has been abundant. Messages of positivity, well wishes and prayers have flooded Rick and Michelle’s phone – so much that they haven’t had a chance to sift through and respond. But they see it and feel it.
Hayashida’s love and passion is football. His new lungs make him extremely vulnerable for the rest of his life, which means he won’t coach again.
“It’s too risky,” he said. “I can’t be anywhere dirty. The new COVID-19 way of living is going to be my norm now. The way I live has been altered. But it means I can spend more time with my family.”
Michelle added: “He can’t have sushi anymore, he’s very disappointed about that.”
Hayashida has focused his attention on young people and student-athletes for 33 years. He knows it’s time to focus on himself more than ever. But don’t be surprised if that image of an oxygen-concentrator-strapped coach finds a way to inspire in some other way.
“Rick would give you the shirt off his back,” Chatsworth athletic director Jon Sheriff said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s a fighter.”