Switching sports is a breeze.
I just keep pushing myself to reach my goal.
"My greatest strength is my ability to quickly rise from difficult situations, find my next goal, and move on," said Wakako Tsuchida, as she gave an analysis of herself.
There are many words to describe the accomplished para-athlete, whose career has exceeded 20 years. One is to say, "a Paralympian who has participated in two winter Paralympics and four summer Paralympics consecutively". After being thrust into life on a wheelchair due to a devastating car accident, Tsuchida began to play sports as a part of her rehabilitation program. That was when she first experienced ice sledge speed racing. It is a competitive sport in which athletes use a special sledge to race on ice, and Tsuchida competed in the sport at the Lillehammer Paralympics in 1994.。
"I was still very immature as an athlete at the time, and the results were horrible," said Tsuchida, recalling the race. However, her disappointing performance was what motivated her to try harder. Through arduous training, she strategically improved her performance, and made a remarkable accomplishment of winning two gold medals and two silver medals at the Nagano Paralympics.。
After the Nagano Games, Tsuchida decided to switch to wheelchair athletics. The reason was that ice sledge speed racing was going to be removed from the Paralympic program as of the Nagano Games. As part of her training menu for ice sledge speed racing, Tsuchida had been taking part in wheelchair marathons for three years. The tenacious para-athlete wasn't the slightest bit fazed by the major transition from winter sports to summer sports, and she quickly settled into her new home. Her first marathon at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics resulted in winning a bronze medal. At the Athens Paralympics, she won a silver medal in marathon, and a gold medal in the 5000 meters. With these accomplishments, Tsuchida also earned the nick name for being the first Japanese athlete to win gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Paralympics.
Regret allowed me to become the athlete that I am today.
I think I can say that I have evolved with the Paralympics.
My family gives me the energy to achieve my fullest potential.
However, as Tsuchida is also known as the ‘unfortunate athlete’, things didn’t always go smoothly in her sports career.
After improving her marathon medal from a bronze to a silver in the previous two Paralympics, Tsuchida was eager to win a gold medal at the next Games. Having fully done her physical and mental training to prepare herself for the world scene, Tsuchida found herself at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, racing in the 5000 meters, when the tragic accident occurred. She became caught up in a collision that occurred 500 meters from the finish line, and was forced to default from the rest of the athletic events and return to Japan with a broken rib. Her four-year dream of winning a gold medal in wheelchair marathon was lost in vain before even reaching the starting line.
The injury left her hospitalized for two months. “At the time, I even considered retiring from athletics,” admitted Tsuchida. However, as much as she was labeled as an ‘unfortunate athlete’, she was also an ‘invincible athlete’. Amidst her inner conflict, Tsuchida thought, “I couldn’t fulfill my potential at the Beijing Paralympics. My career cannot end like this.” As soon as she had decided on her next plan, she was off. Although Tsuchida was already in her mid-thirties, she trained hard everyday to improve her speed and endurance, and entered the 2012 London Paralympics. In the notorious 5000 meters which had caused her to retire from the previous Paralympics, Tsuchida successfully completed the race in sixth place, and finally found herself at the starting line of the marathon event to fulfill her now eight-year dream of winning her first marathon gold.
“I decided to race aggressively,” said Tsuchida, recalling that day. Everything was going well until half-way through the race, when she was racing amongst the top six racers thinking, “Half more to go. This is where the real race begins.” Then, Tsuchida was struck by yet another unfortunate accident. When making a left turn, gravity sent her flying into the opposite direction and crashing into the ground. Lying helplessly, she watched her rivals speed away within seconds. Due to the shock and pain of the fall, Tsuchida could not immediately get up.
However, as soon as she heard the spectators cheering for her from the streets, the faces of the people who had been supporting her through thick and thin her entire career began to float in her mind. “I have to cross the finish line!” Using every bit of strength that she had left, Tsuchida pushed her wheelchair with all her might. As a result, she finished the race in fifth place. Despite the satisfaction of crossing the finish line for the first time in eight years, Tsuchida once again felt that she was unable to achieve her fullest potential.
For Tsuchida, every life experience fuels her ambition to try harder. She is currently training to participate in the Rio Paralympics, which will be the seventh Paralympic Games of her career. “I hope that I can finally race to my satisfaction in Rio, and reach my fullest potential,” said Tsuchida with determination. Her performance will surely be a culmination of everything that she has built over her twenty plus years as an accomplished athlete. Last but not least, Tsuchida also wears the title, ‘athlete mom’. She married her current husband in 2005, and they have a son together. “Although bearing a child meant that I would have to sacrifice my athletic career to a certain extent, the fact that I became a mother and I have my own family now has actually made me stronger as an athlete,” says Tsuchida.
At the same time, she admits that sports and parenthood are not easy careers to juggle. “Both roles are physically straining, and I cannot let my guard down for a moment. However, my family is also my team, and I am grateful that they support me to achieve my goals. As the saying goes, people are stronger when they unite. My family gives me the essential energy that I need to improve my performance as an athlete.”
Saying these words, Tsuchida glanced over at her son with gentle eyes, as he played with his bicycle by her side.」
text Kyoko Hoshino
photo by X-1
Born on October 15th, 1974 in Tokyo. She begins to use a wheelchair in the second year of senior highschool after getting into a car accident. Her first Paralympic experience was as an ice sledge speed racer at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. After winning four medals at the 1998 Nagano Paralympics, She decides to switch to athletics, and participates in four consecutive summer Paralympic Games starting with the 2000 Sydney Games. Tsuchida is a holder of three gold medals, including one in the 5000 meters. At the Oita International Wheelchair Marathon in 2013, she broke the full marathon world record for the T54 class by completing the race in 1 hour 38 minutes and 7 seconds. She is affiliated with Yachiyo Industry Co., Ltd.