tokyo_paralympics

Photo credit: Hong Kong Paralympic Committee & Sports Association for the Physically Disabled

Introduction

We believe a lot of you still remember the excitement you felt during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Have you ever wondered how it’s like in the Olympic village? Actually, one of the Paralympians, Mr. Wilson Ngai at the archery games, is married to our Japanese language teacher Ushigami-sensei! We invited them to chat with our Chairperson, Ms. Akemi Aota and Principal, Ms. Hiromi Kameshima so we can learn more about their story and road to the Olympics.

tokyo_paralympics
tokyo_paralympics

From left to right: Ms. Hiromi Kameshima (Principal), Ms. Akemi Aota (Chairperson), Wilson Ngai and Ms. Atsuko Ushigami

Q: Could you share your background with us?

(Ushigami) I have been teaching for about 11 years with Pasona. Before that I owned my own company… actually my major in university was education and I have always been interested in pursuing education as a job, so I joined the Japanese Teacher Training provided by Pasona Education when I wanted to change jobs. Then, I started teaching Business Japanese Course and private tuition since.

(Wilson) I have a full time job in IT and am a part time athlete. Hence I am balancing both my job and my sports career. Right now I only take 1-2 nights off per week, and the rest of the time I spend it on my job and sports training.

Q: How did you two meet?

(Ushigami) I practiced Kyudo (Japanese archery) in Japan for about a decade, then started archery when I moved to Hong Kong. My friend had told me about a beginners course in archery and took me to the archery club, which is where we met. We had very good impression of each other and I thought he was very easy and fun to talk to at that time!

Q: How are Kyudo and archery different?

(Ushigami) They are quite different. On the surface the bows and arrows look very similar but to give you an analogy, Kyudo is more like a bicycle whereas archery is like a motorbike. The equipment used in archery is more modernized.

tokyo_paralympics
tokyo_paralympics

Q: What sparked your interest in archery?

(Wilson) I learned about this sport from the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and began practicing this sport. Before archery, I played wheelchair fencing. I switched from fencing because I felt I had reached my ceiling and couldn’t improve any further.

(Ushigami) Actually the wheelchair fencing team in Hong Kong is ranked amongst the best in the world. Although he says he couldn’t improve further, he was already ranked number 6 or 7 in the world… then above him were his other Hong Kong teammates. The fencing coach they had for wheelchair fencing is also well known – since he started coaching the able-bodied, they began to score significantly better too. For example, he coached the men’s gold medalist and the women’s also ranked best 8 in the Tokyo Olympics.

Q: I’m sure you really wanted to be there with Wilson at that time, how did you feel?

(Ushigami) I did really want to go! 7 or 8 years ago, when it was announced that Tokyo would host the Olympic games, he promised me he’d take me there… at that time my reaction was just “ok ok, let’s work hard” and I also didn’t know how sincere he was about this promise. So when he was qualified for the Olympics, we were ecstatic!

(Wilson) Of course I was serious when I promised you! I really wanted to take my Japanese wife to my Olympic game in Japan and for her to see me compete. This was a big motivator and goal for me to keep me going.

Q: There was a one-year delay, how did you feel?

(Wilson) I felt emotional, but things like this is out of my control. If it’s not something I can control, I wouldn’t let it take up space in my mind. So I continued to focus on training.

(Ushigami) That’s something he reminds me of too; when I experience difficulties at work, he would remind me to focus on what I can do to change the situation and think of things I can control. As you may already know, Wilson lost his lower leg after being pushed down the MTR tracks. But he doesn’t let it stop him from moving on because he deeply believes that no matter what he does his leg won’t come back so there is no purpose in dwelling.

Q: Because of the pandemic, it was difficult to see what is going on at the Tokyo Olympics. Could you share more about your experience?

(Wilson) About the atmosphere, it was a lot quieter than other major competitions. The lack of audience played a huge factor in it.

Q: Were you affected by the lack of an audience?

(Wilson) I do prefer having an audience and hearing them cheer us on. While it may seem like more pressure for the athletes, it does help with motivating us to try harder!

Q: Were you able to interact with other countries’ athletes?

(Wilson) Not really. Because of the pandemic, we could only interact on the field at the moment of the event. Athletes were only allowed to go to the Olympic village and the courts where the competitions were held. They couldn’t even board shuttle buses to go watch the other games.

tokyo_paralympics
tokyo_paralympics

Q: So even if the athletes are also from Hong Kong, you couldn’t go watch them compete?

(Wilson) We could meet up with other Hong Kong athletes, but had to keep a distance with athletes from other countries. The Japanese government and Olympic Committee also specified dates for athletes’ arrival and departure according to their sport. We were only allowed to arrive 7 days before our event, and had to depart Japan within 48 hours afterward. So these strict regulations have made the atmosphere a lot more reserved.

Q: Were there no opportunities to communicate with athletes from other countries?

(Wilson) Although fewer than before, there were such opportunities. We just had to wear a mask and keep a social distance while we communicate. But even though the atmosphere was a lot more reserved, we do understand how difficult it must have been for Japan to host the Olympic games. Hence, we are very thankful for Japan to make sure the events happened in the best way it could.

Q: Anything about the Olympic village you can share with us?

(Wilson) I am very thankful for the citizens of Japan, even though they couldn’t enter the village and watch us play, when I was on the bus headed to the village, I saw many citizens waving and cheering us on – I really felt their passion and support for us. The volunteers at the village were also trying their hardest to help us complete this event. They worked tirelessly every hour of the day and we are deeply grateful for their help.

The largest building at the village was the two-storey tall cafeteria, where all international athletes had their meals and was where they gathered. The meals provided were also very considerate, there were Chinese food, Western food, Middle Eastern food, Vegetarian food, food that didn’t contain pork food that didn’t contain beef, etc., to fulfill the physical and religious needs of athletes from all around the world.

The most special area at the cafeteria was the Japan area. This area is specially provided so the international athletes can try Japanese food, which includes wagyu beef, grapes, sushi with cooked fish, yakisoba, takoyaki, gyoza… which was very delicious. The lids on the ice cream cups were also designed to look like gold medals.

tokyo_paralympics
tokyo_paralympics

Q: Did you buy any souvenirs?

(Wilson) Just one shirt for myself and some knick knacks for some friends! But someone else in the Hong Kong team bought a couple hundred thousand yen worth of souvenirs! Some popular souvenir options were little knick knacks or small towels.

Q: Wilson, what kind of challenges have you faced whilst striving to be the top athlete in archery?

(Wilson) The biggest challenge is with myself. Archery is a very still sport, only me and my target are involved in this sport so I need to be very calm and concentrated. All the results are dependent on my action and my mind. In the same vein, when you are concentrated at your task, no matter at work or at your studies, you will get much better results.

Q: Do you have any tips on concentration?

(Wilson) You must love what you are doing. If you don’t love your task, you won’t be able to concentrate. Another thing is to have a purpose and a clear goal of what you wish to achieve. So when I am practicing for the Olympics, I constantly think of my goal to win a medal. Of course this process can be challenging, so I need support from a lot of people; for instances my coach, physical trainer, sports psychologist, nutritionist. And of course support from my family is very important too. Without my wife, I would not be able to achieve this much.

Q: And Ushigami sensei, you are also practicing archery still? At the same archery club?

(Ushigami) Yes, apart from weight training, we train together.

Q: Then what are your upcoming challenges, Ushigami sensei?

(Ushigami) I wish to continue my archery training and also my teaching career here at Pasona Education. It is very important for me to see my students enjoy learning Japanese in my lessons. In the long run, I wish my students from Pasona Education can achieve their dreams and move to Japan. It makes me really happy to hear news like this and to see talents being developed.

Q: Wilson, will you join the next Olympics?

(Wilson) Yes, my next goal is to join the Paris Olympics. I will take my coach with me, as he is going to retire soon and I wish to take him before then. But of course I will take my wife as well!

Q: Do you have a message for our readers?

(Wilson) No matter sports or studies, you are all working towards that goal. I am the same as you all, I will continue to work hard towards my goals.

(Ushigami) We hope you can face any challenges thrown your way and keep working toward your dream.

tokyo_paralympics