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                    Power to Inspire Story

                    The Real Stories of Athletes Always Challenging Themselves

                    Vol.7 Mayumi Tsuchida

                    There?s no wall that?s too high to climb

                    Mayumi Tsuchida
                    Mayumi Tsuchida

                    (Wheelchair basketball player)

                    At the fundamental level, sports provides an entertaining way for people to compete against each other in physical one-upmanship. But sports can also have a deeper impact, providing opportunities for personal growth and social transformation. Athletes have more than just fun on their minds as they entertain spectators with their physical feats; they also have broader goals and visions they hope to achieve through sports.
                    One athlete who embodies this characterization is women?s wheelchair basketball player Mayumi Tsuchida. Her physical disability once caused her to doubt herself, but now she pursues her dreams with fervor, driven by a personal mantra that "there?s no wall that?s too high to climb". Currently, she is busy preparing to shine on her biggest stage yet—the Tokyo Paralympics.
                    Mayumi Tsuchida
                    An athlete who embodies contrasts

                    As you watch Tsuchida adeptly control the ball with her hands, one thing you might notice is the strikingly cute artwork on her fingernails.

                    "When you play basketball, the skin on the palms becomes thicker, and your hands turn rugged", Tsuchida says with a slightly embarrassed smile. "By doing my nails, I get to add just a bit of softness!"

                    Tsuchida embodies contrasts in other ways as well. On the court, where she trains with a men?s team, she is poised and dynamic. Off the court, she is warm and laidback.

                    Tsuchida says that as a child, she excelled at sports and wanted to become a sports trainer when she grew up. She didn't encounter wheelchair basketball until she was at university.

                    "I was visiting an indoor basketball court when someone from my university invited me to get in a basketball wheelchair and try shooting", she says. "I thought it would be easy, but my shots didn't even reach the hoop. That really frustrated me. If it wasn't for that sense of frustration, I probably would have never ended up getting into wheelchair basketball."
                    Mayumi Tsuchida
                    At the time, Tsuchida had no need for a wheelchair in her daily life. Although she had a congenital hip joint malformation and she had been told might affect her ability to walk in the future, Tsuchida did not feel any pain from her condition and so didn't fully grasp the reality of her situation.

                    "On an intellectual level, I understood, but I had a hard time accepting the reality", she says."As the condition worsened, I was able to walk less and less until I was forced to rely on a wheelchair. Part of me was hopeful that my condition would eventually improve, but another bigger part of me was worried that I would never be able to walk again. That?s why it hit me hard when I received my disability passbook. Nothing about me had fundamentally changed from the previous day, nor had the condition stricken me all of a sudden. Yet, until the previous day, I had thought I was able-bodied, and now I was suddenly disabled. It took me a while to accept my situation."

                    As Tsuchida became increasingly pessimistic, she discovered a source of optimism in the same wheelchair basketball that had frustrated her as a university student.

                    "Wheelchair basketball is very difficult", she says. "When I started, I couldn't dash forward and had a hard time catching up with the ball even if it was right in front of me. I couldn't back up, turn, or even stop. The only way I?d stop was by bumping into someone! So, it was challenging, but that?s what made it so much fun. Every shot you successfully make feels like a special occasion. Through wheelchair basketball, I've gotten to know people with a variety of disabilities, which helped me accept my own condition and become more optimistic. Thanks to the support and encouragement of so many different people, I've made it this far. You could say that wheelchair basketball saved my life."

                    Training with men to push herself even further

                    Tsuchida hates to lose, and it was this aspect of her personality that drove her to work hard and improve in wheelchair basketball.

                    "I?m not good at hiding my feelings, and I get easily stressed out", she says. "But every time I?m frustrated, I tell myself that there?s no wall that?s too high to climb. As much as I like being complimented, it?s my frustration that drives me more. I play on the national team, but I was once dropped from a tournament line-up. That really frustrated me, so I worked hard to make my head coach regret the decision to drop me. As a result, I was back in for the next tournament, and I even earned an MVP."

                    Wheelchair basketball is a tough sport involving players in wheelchairs moving constantly at high speeds. Collisions inevitably happen. This is why Tsuchida practices with men. By being able to remain calm and play aggressively in the face of men who are bigger than her, she feels she can push herself even further.

                    "Collisions in wheelchair basketball are no laughing matter", she says. "They can topple you over. But if you flinch at that possibility, you can?t play your own game. When people watch the sport for the first time, they often say that it?s a lot more violent than they expected."

                    Currently, Tsuchida is gearing up for her biggest challenge yet.

                    "I want to score big at the Tokyo Paralympics", she says. "That?s my biggest goal right now. I want to play well on both the women?s and men?s teams. When I play with men, they?re definitely faster and more aggressive than women—and I want to get as close to that level as possible. At this point, I?m a veteran, but I?m not thinking about retiring yet. The minute I consider retiring, I feel like I?ll start going easy on myself. I want to be a top-line player until the very end. Sure, some day, I?ll reach my limits. When that happens, I want to switch my focus to teaching young players about what I went through to get to this point. If I become a teacher, I might discover another aspect of the sport that I like."

                    A desire to expand wheelchair basketball

                    Tsuchida is the person she is today because she has worked hard for her own well-being, throwing her whole self into wheelchair basketball to wipe away every trace of the doubts caused by her inability to walk. More optimistic than she has ever been, Tsuchida has set her sights on her biggest dream yet.

                    "There are a lot of people who have never watched a wheelchair basketball game", she says. "In 2021, I hope more people will discover the sport and become fans. I think once they watch a game, they?ll immediately realize what a fun sport it is. There still aren?t many indoor courts in Japan where you can play wheelchair basketball. Quite a few courts won?t allow us to play, because they think we?ll damage the floor. But once more people learn the truths about wheelchair basketball, I think we?ll see more venues —and more wheelchair users! — embrace the sport. Recently, I've been holding talks at schools in between practice and games. More able-bodied people are playing the sport, too. I hope the environment for wheelchair basketball expands and changes for the better."

                    It is perhaps because Tsuchida has overcome so many walls in her life that she shines particularly bright as both an athlete and a person.
                    Hopefully, she will successfully achieve her goals for 2021 and shine more brightly than ever.
                    Mayumi Tsuchida

                    Mayumi Tsuchida

                    Tsuchida was considered a star of the women?s wheelchair basketball scene before she was picked to join the Japanese national team in 2010. She led her team to victory in the 2013 All Japan Women?s Wheelchair Basketball Tournament and earned an MVP. In 2017, she joined a men?s wheelchair basketball team. She is represented by Sigmaxyz.
                    Words: Kosuke Kawakami  Photography: Tsukuru Asada  Athlete Beauty Adviser: Masumi Hanada
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