When Wakako Tsuchida was a junior in high school, a life-altering car accident left her paralyzed and thrust her into a life in a wheelchair. But from there, she went on to become the first Japanese athlete to win gold medals in both the summer and winter Paralympic games. At the 1998 Nagano Winter Paralympics, she won a gold medal in the 1,500 meter ice sledge, breaking her own previous world record, and also acquired a gold medal in the 1,000 meter race and silver medals in the 100 meter and 500 meter races. Her next challenge extended to track and field, where she acquired a bronze medal in the wheelchair marathon at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games. The following year, she established a new world record at the 2001 Oita International Wheelchair Marathon, and then in 2004 earned a long-coveted gold medal in the 5,000 meter race and a silver medal in the marathon race at the Athens Paralympics. In April 2007, she became the first Japanese champion at the 111th Boston Marathon. She was set on winning the gold in the 5,000 meter race and the marathon race at the Beijing Paralympics, but was forced to drop out of both races due to injuries incurred from a collision accident during the 5,000 meter race. Nevertheless, she made a comeback and successfully competed in the 5,000 meter race and marathon race at the 2012 London Paralympics. Despite falling during the marathon, she finished in fifth place. In October 2013, at the Oita International Marathon, she broke the world record that she had set 12 years earlier, showing the world that she is maintaining the same high levels of performance that she displayed during her prime. She continues to compete in races around the world in pursuit of gold at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games. In addition to her accomplishments in competition, she has encouraged and inspired people throughout the world as an ambassador for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games bid.
At the age of 25, Kota Hokinoue suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident. A friend encouraged him to begin competing in wheelchair marathons. His first race was in the half marathon division (21.097 km) at the Oita International Wheelchair Marathon in 2002. In 2006, he represented Japan at the Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled (FESPIC) and won a gold medal in the marathon. In 2008, he was appointed as the Sports Ambassador for Fukuoka, Japan, where he received an award from Japan’s Minister of Health, Labour, and Welfare. That same year, he competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, placing fifth in both the 5,000 meter race and the marathon. In 2010, he set a new Japanese national record in both the 10,000 meter and 5,000 meter races. In 2011, he went on to set a new Japanese national record in the marathon event, cementing his place as a top Japanese wheelchair athlete. At the 2012 London Paralympic Games, he competed in the 5,000 meter race and also finished sixth in the marathon. In April 2013, he bested his own Japanese national record at the Seoul International Wheelchair Marathon. Following this event, he continued to maintain his high levels of performance while also starting a new training program to further enhance his speed and stamina. His efforts were rewarded in July of 2013, when he earned the bronze in the wheelchair marathon at the IPC Athletics World Championship held in Lyon, France. Kota Hokinoue is unquestionably one of Japan’s top world-class wheelchair athletes. He is now focused on winning the gold medal at both the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics and the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
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 three years from now at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games.