Table Speech

Towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games

November 16, 2016

Ms. Aki Taguchi
Paralympians Association of Japan

 I had been working as a purserette on board a cruiser “Asuka” until I suddenly came down with a severe pain all over my body and was rushed to the hospital by an ambulance. At the age of 25, both of my legs became paralyzed. It was caused by a vascular disruption of the spinal cord which compressed the central nerve and damaged the thoracic vertebra. Physicians and rehabilitation therapists gave me optimistic diagnoses at the beginning, so I was determined to undergo intensive rehabilitation in order to work again on the cruiser. Three months later, however, I came to confront a harsh reality. I transferred to a hospital specialized in spinal injury and was told that I could never walk again because even the latest medical treatment could not reconstruct damaged nerves.

 I started the rehabilitation program to assist my life in a wheelchair. It was indeed a challenging time, both mentally and physically, as I underwent rehabilitation passively and felt distressed about not being able to do what I used to do. I also got depressed by comparing myself to others. But then, as I saw my friends who came to visit me enjoying their life fully working and playing, I came to realize I should also commit myself to something meaningful. I managed to motivate myself and set two goals for the rehabilitation: first to move myself into the wheelchair and load it into a car without assistance, and then to pull myself back into the wheelchair by using only my arms in case I fell off. I underwent intensive rehabilitation and finally became ready, both physically and mentally, to leave the hospital after spending a year and a half in total four hospitals.

 I resumed working two and a half years after the illness and devoted myself to the new assignment that I found fulfilling. I also started a new hobby “beam rifle,” which is a unique Japanese shooting sport exempted from the Firearms and Swords Control Act. Later I switched to air rifle, passed the exams and obtained a license. I made entries into different competitions and was fortunate enough to win a prize at the World Championship. After my illness, I became afraid to take a long-term perspective. But since I started the sport, I could look ahead positively and set goals to strive for. Thanks to all the support given by my coaches, family, friends and colleagues, I could compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012).

 Competitors use pistols or rifles at Paralympic Games to fire a series of shots at a stationary target. I competed for two events, the indoor “Mixed: 10 Meter Air Rifle Prone (60 shots)” and the outdoor “Mixed: 50 Meter Rifle Prone (60 shots).” The sport is a test of accuracy, control, concentration and mental strength.

 The Paralympic Games date back to 1948 when the London Olympics were held. Dr. Ludwig Guttmann organized the first competition for wheelchair athletes at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in the UK. He aimed to assist WWII veterans suffering from spinal injuries through rehabilitation sport. The competition was held every year among hospitalized patients, and then became an international game in 1952. The ninth Game held in Rome in 1960 was called the first Paralympic Games, a portmanteau combining “Paraplegia” and “Olympic.” It was later agreed to officially use the term “Paralympic Games” in 1985, meaning “Parallel Olympics” that welcome athletes with multiple disabilities.

 Tokyo hosted the second Paralympic Summer Games in 1964 where 400 athletes from 22 countries competed for 9 sports, 144 events. The Games served to help increase public interest in activities of disabled athletes and to facilitate independence, social participation and contribution of people with a disability. Tokyo will be the world’s first country to host the Paralympics for the second time in 2020.

 The International Paralympics Committee (IPC) was founded in 1989, based at Bonn, Germany. It is given authority to organize the Paralympic Games in the same year and venue as the Olympics. The current IPC President Sir Philip Craven is a former wheelchair basketball player from the UK who advocates “the disabled are active members of one society just like everybody else. Living in ‘one world’ and seeking for ‘one dream’,’ we are ‘one people’.”

 The Rio Paralympic Games was held this September with the participation of 4,300 athletes, including 132 from Japan, from 159 countries and regions who competed for 22 sports, 528 events. Ticket sales totaled 2.1 million; making Rio the second best attended Paralympics in history only behind London.

 Let me highlight that “accessibility” is the key component in organizing the Paralympics. For many Japanese, the term “barrier-free” might sound more familiar. The host country/city should be committed to create accessible and inclusive Games for all. Research results of the World Health Organization show 10% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. If we add expectant mothers, mothers with prams, people with injuries and the elderly, the figure doubles to around 20%. Accessibility is not somebody else’s problem, but can affect anyone and everyone.

 I hope you can come and watch many different sports for the disabled because Japan will host various games, including World Cups, in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. I also wish many people will come and enjoy the Paralympics together with athletes as one team. The core Paralympics values are “courage” “determination” “inspiration” and “equality.” Please come and share the excitement and the values which are at the heart of the Paralympics Movement. I will work hard towards making an inclusive society, and let me ask for your generous support and understanding.