Eri Yamamoto on How Her Struggles in Para Powerlifting Make Her a Better Parasapo Member
Eri Yamamoto is a woman with two identities. On the one hand, she is a full-time staff member at the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center, and on the other, a para powerlifter. In Part 1, she discussed how she, at one point, had given up on being a para-athlete. How had she gone from that to rediscovering sports? What are her thoughts, after all that she’s been through? We asked her about the behind-the-scenes turmoil that led to her decisions.
(See Part 1 here)
Discovering Her “Power” at a Work Event
━━I recently went to an Asuchalle Academy event, and I was struck by the corner you had set up where you could feel how people with visual or hearing impairments experience the world, how they “see” the world through different channels. The lecture, workshop, groupwork flow made the whole thing really easy to understand as well.
These seminars are about inclusive society through the lens of parasports and the Paralympics. But we do take a lot of pains to make it more fun for the people who come to them. I mean, when we first started developing the program, we really struggled because we were trying to come up with a 100-minute lecture for the 100-minute seminar. Even after we completed it, it just didn’t sit right with me, and I asked if I could do a practice seminar for the staff. And that was when I made my instructor debut.
━━I heard that was the turning point for you, and when you started getting involved in the seminars and lectures. But then why did you choose to go back into parasports, and do both at the same time
It’s funny. I went to see an event for work, and they had a para powerlifting workshop. My boss said, “Why not try it?” So I went in and gave it a go. At first, I wasn’t taking it too seriously, and I remember telling them, “Nope, this is way too heavy—not going to happen.” But then, all of a sudden, I found myself being able to lift this 40 kg barbell. Everyone around me was stunned, and saying things like, “We’ve got a future Paralympian right here!” And they recommended that I become a powerlifter.
So I thought to myself—what’s more fun? A life where I try para powerlifting, or a life where I don’t? I also thought that if I went back into parasports, I could have a chance of fulfilling my long-lost dream of competing in the Paralympics. In the end I decided it’d be more fun for me to go into para powerlifting. My boss was encouraging as well, and told me that if I was going to do it, I better do both—work and sports—properly, and get into the Paralympics. That was the start of my “double life.”
To be fair, though, for me it’s more like a “parallel life” than a “double life.” At some points, I felt limited by the idea of a “double life,” like I had to split my time and effort for each in half. But then I started thinking about it differently. It may not always be 50/50, but my two “careers” are running in parallel, and I can shift my focus between them as needed. My barbell training is three times a week. And of course, I go to the office every day, so honestly my days pass by in kind of a blur [laughs].
In the 19th All-Japan Para Powerlifting International Invitational Competition in February 2019, she managed to beat her own Japan record by 6 kg, and was crowned champion of the Women’s 55 kg Class. ⓒParasapo
Her Dream—a Society Where Everyone, Regardless of Impairment, Can Value and Appreciate the Paralympics
━━If you were to earn the right to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics, would you go for a medal?
Realistically speaking, there aren’t very many people who can get good enough at para powerlifting to a win a medal, with only four years of prep. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on the idea, or that I think it’s impossible, but I know myself, and I know that if I set my sights to a medal, then I’ll be crushed by the pressure. It’s a hundred times more exciting for me to think, “I want to actually compete in the Paralympics, and fulfill this thing I’ve always wanted to do.” Right now I’m just quietly working as hard as I can so I can do well at the World Para Powerlifting Championships in July in Kazakhstan.
One more thing I felt when I got back into sports, was that athletes and the people who support them, are all moving towards the same thing. We’re all comrades, moving towards the same goal. That’s why I feel that the experiences I’ve had as a para powerlifter will deepen any efforts I make in the future to help and support other people.
Recently, I’ve felt myself doubting whether the work that I’m doing, what I’m telling people, is really driving us towards a society that can recognize and understand people with impairments in the community. It’s sad, but I feel like this because I feel like the way society sees me as a para-athlete and when I’m just me in my normal clothes out in the city, is so different. The Paralympics is a movement, but I just want society to change enough that the people who go to the Paralympics, whether or not they’re able-bodied or athletes themselves, feel glad that they got to experience it.
Now, looking back on it, I think it all started for me when I was nine, when I went to see the “Rakueikai” (a local para-swimming association). There were all these adults with impairments, swimming and having fun. I was just a kid then, but I remember being struck by the sight of these adults, who were all out in society with jobs, training to compete in the Paralympics. This is where I am now, and my goal as well. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I like that quote, because I believe that if you keep working towards something with all that you have, that a path will really, truly open up for you. Both in work and in sports, I’m just going to keep giving it my all.
“I’m actually quite shy, so I get really nervous when I have to give lectures. When it’s over, I go straight home—no stopping anywhere—so I can relieve myself of the anxiety as fast as possible. And then when I get home, I like to sit in the corner of my room and breathe a little sigh of relief [laughs],” said Yamamoto
“I feel really energized when I see orange things, and so I use them on an everyday basis in work and in my training. I take them with me to lectures and tournaments to relieve some of my nerves, and also so the environment will feel more familiar to me,” said Yamamoto
text by Mayumi Tanihata
photo by Yuki Maita(NOSTY)