Saki Takakuwa lost her left leg to bone cancer after enduring three surgeries when she was in the sixth grade. Just before entering high school, she learned about an amputee sports club where she saw people with similar disabilities racing on a track field with athletic prosthetic limbs. This experience inspired her to seek new challenges. She joined her high school track team soon afterwards. Five years after starting track and field, she was breaking her own records. In September 2012, she recorded a time of 13.96 seconds in the 100 meter race at the Japan Paralympic Games, only 0.12 seconds behind the Japan national record. At the London Paralympic Games, she placed seventh in the 100 meter race. She also placed seventh in the 200 meter race, breaking her own record with a time of 29.37 seconds in the qualifying round. Takakuwa is a highly promising athlete in track and field. She is now training for a chance to represent Japan at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.
In junior high school, I played tennis wearing a prosthetic leg. My prosthetic technician, Mr. Takahashi, had made me a trial-use prosthetic leg for sports by making improvements to my standard everyday use prosthetics. I was amazed at the speeds I could attain and decided to try track and field. I especially enjoyed being able to put in all of my strength when running short-distance sprints, so I literally jumped in and joined my high school track and field team.
Mr. Takahashi continued to make further improvements to my prosthetics. In my second year in high school, I wore my new and improved special sports prosthetic at the Asian Youth Para Games, a multi-sport event for athletes with disabilities between 14 and 19 years of age, and achieved a gold medal in 100 meter long jump. I kept breaking my own records and everything was so fun. At the time, my black-and-purple paisley patterned prosthetic leg was my favorite, and I remember wanting to show it off to everyone around me.
In the qualification race for the London Paralympics, I marked a time of 14.12 seconds in the 100 meter race. In the 200 meter race, I finished with a time of 30.32 seconds, which was a new record for me. But this 200 meter result meant much more to me because it was the first time ever that I was able to win against Maya Nakanishi, an athlete I had long admired in addition to being the Japanese national record holder at the time. With these results, I qualified to participate in the Paralympic Games that I had dreamed of. The actual Paralympics was much more than the dream experience that I had imagined it would be. A much larger dream awaited me. The stadium was almost shaking with the cheers of the 80,000 spectators in attendance. I was quite nervous at first, but gradually I was filled with a sense of elation, enjoying every second of the dream experience. I swore to myself that I definitely want to come back!
My aim in Rio is to win over myself. My goal is to place in the finals in all of the races that I compete in and better all of my records from London. There are three years to go until Rio. Three years seems like a long time, but actually there’s not much time. There’s no point if I don’t improve on my performance, and that's why each day is important and valuable to me in my effort to look straight ahead and work on winning against myself. As a track and field athlete, I am extremely conscious of the Japanese national records. Once a race is run and the results are posted, that particular competition will end there, but a national record remains in place until it is bettered. That's why the Japanese national record is special and holds a strong meaning. To me, a national record means that I have won over my past self. It’s the proof that I have developed as an athlete. I definitely want to go to the Rio Games as the Japanese national record holder.
The Summer Paralympic Games in 2020 will be held in Tokyo. I will be 28 years old at that time. Track and field athletes are generally considered to be in their prime in their 20s. As such, I am very excited and lucky in that I have a good chance of realizing my dream of running in the Paralympics again. The Tokyo Paralympics is one of my goals as an athlete, a culmination of all of my past efforts. I will work hard to be able to deliver the best performance of my life as an athlete, and I hope that my performance will be watched by many people around the world.
Photographer: Shugo Takemi