Rina Akiyama is totally blind in both eyes, but that didn’t stop her from learning how to swim and eventually becoming a champion swimmer.
Hisano Tezuka is deaf, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a skiier, determined to compete at the highest levels in the Deaflympics.
Daisuke Uehara does not have the use of his legs, and was turned off by people encouraging him to take up wheelchair basketball, and gladly took up the sport of ice sledge hockey, helping Japan to Paralympic silver at the Vancouver Games in 2010.
On March 25, I had the honor of listening to the stories and views of these retired athletes, who were asked by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan to join a panel discussion entitled, “What About the Paralympics”, an event with the aim of raising awareness of Paralympic sports in Japan. In my research on the Olympics, I have spent little time on the Paralympics, an event that started with a competition for war veterans with spinal cord injuries at the same time as the 1948 London Games. The first official Paralympic Games were held in conjunction with the Rome Summer Games in 1960, and have continued ever since, growing consistently in popularity and significance.
What I learned is that the Paralympic Games is not about disabled athletes, but about athletes with tremendous ability. If Japan (or any society) values diversity and strives to be more inclusive, then a mind shift needs to take place. The BCCJ, like elements in the public sector, the private sector and NPOs, believe people need to stop making the so-called disability of a person the number one characteristic of a person, and need to start understanding the abilities of that person that allow growth and avenues for that person to achieve his or her potential.
In the case of Paralympic participants, these people are athletes, some of them as intense and brilliant as their so-called able-bodied colleagues.
Akiyama began swimming at 3. At 10, she read a book about the Paralympics, and from