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Changing Society Through Education! The Challenge for Tomorrow School Achieves 1000-School Goal!

Paralympic education plays an important role in determining the success of the Paralympic Games.

London 2012 was said to be the most successful Paralympic Games in history. Leading up to the event, a Paralympic-related educational program called Get Set provided children with many opportunities to learn about the Paralympic Games and its athletes. Children then taught adults what they had learned in a form of reverse education, which helped spread the Paralympic movement throughout the country.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is using London 2012 as a model. To make Paralympic education a driving force behind the Games, educators have developed a wide range of learning materials and held classes for children to experience parasports. In April 2020, the government curriculum guideline also added the term “Paralympic.”

One such program is the “Asuchalle” Challenge for Tomorrow School, a parasports school-visiting program organized by the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center (Parasapo) and sponsored by Japan Airlines Co., Ltd. (JAL). It was launched in April 2016, and in October 2020, it reached its goal of visiting a total of 1,000 elementary, junior high, high, and special education schools. A total of over 150,000 students took part in the program.

Students Were Awed by Outstanding Wheelchair Riding Skills

Yoshifumi Nagao was the instructor at the program’s memorable 1000th school visit; a legendary athlete who participated in seven Paralympic Games, making him the Japanese record holder.

That day, the instructor who arrived in the gym hall was Yoshifumi Nagao, a legendary athletics athlete who has participated in seven Paralympic Games. The students greeted him with loud applause, and Nagao, despite his mask, beamed and waved his arms.

“I suspect there haven’t been a lot of events happening this year (because of COVID-19), but I hope we can make this next 90 minutes memorable for everyone here,” he said.

Propelled by even a small bit of strength! Nagao riding a racing wheelchair, which is designed for speed.

Nagao showed pictures and videos on the screen to introduce the Paralympic Games and athletics. His lecture focused on what makes watching parasports unique and fun. For example, he revealed that the wheelchair marathon world record is actually faster than the record for able-bodied marathons and that even athletes with visual impairments can compete with guide runners.

The class of freshman students appeared to be a little tense at first, but they perked up when Nagao switched over to the racing wheelchair. He propelled it effortlessly back and forth in front of the students, who were sitting in rows. All eyes were glued to him.

The Fun of Cheering Others On! Experiencing Parasports

Student representatives saw who could push the racing wheelchairs faster!

The second part of the program was centered on experiencing parasports. Racing wheelchairs were placed on rollers and student representatives tried pushing the wheels. Nagao first gave a demonstration and started to rhythmically tap the hand rims. The students clapped their hands and this seems to spur him on. He pushed hard until he was out of breath and reached a speed of almost 50 km/h! Nagao looked pleased and said, “Racing to handclaps gives me so much strength.”

The student representatives got on next and took on the challenge of seeing how fast they could push the wheels. They described how difficult it was to push with just their arms, but gave it their all and marked around 7 - 9 km/h. Nagao then called on the teachers to try and the students’ excitement grew even more. They clapped their hands and loudly cheered their teachers on, who pushed the wheels with all their might.

After that, they held a wheelchair relay using wheelchairs with slanted wheels—the type used in wheelchair basketball. Five students from each class raced for first place by passing on the wheelchairs as baton substitutes. Although they had a hard time pushing the wheelchairs forward, they eventually reached the goal with smiles on their faces.

Since the wheelchairs were passed on as baton substitutes, getting on and off quickly was another factor in deciding the race.

A Paralympian’s Talk to Teach Students About the Power of Having Dreams and Goals

Lastly, Nagao held a talk and the students listened attentively.

Nagao contracted acute poliomyelitis as a child and suddenly found himself unable to move his legs. He said he gave up on walking and even playing with his friends and ended up spending his days doing nothing. This changed in high school. His teacher suggested he try athletics and he was captivated by how fun it was. He started to train in earnest to participate in the tournament he was aiming for. However, he lost miserably. This lit a fire inside him and he began training once again with a fierce desire to win. It drove him all the way up to the Paralympic Games.

Nagao talked about the importance of never giving up and pushing on no matter what happens.

He wasn’t, however, always successful at the Paralympic Games. There were frustrating times when he came close to winning a medal, only to see it slip through his fingers. There were also times when he was devasted by an injury. But he never gave up and pushed on, until finally, he won a bronze medal in the Men’s 4 x 400 m relay at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. Nagao is a legend who has participated in seven Paralympic Games, which is the Japanese record. “I was able to determinedly push on because I had goals,” he said with conviction. His message to the students was on the importance of never giving up and carrying on through to the end.

History of the “Asuchalle” Challenge for Tomorrow School

April 2016
The Challenge for Tomorrow School program is launched.

April 2017
JAL becomes a co-sponsor: allows staff members to travel by plane and transport sports and other equipment by air.

February 2019
The Challenge for Tomorrow School achieves a milestone of holding classes in all 47 prefectures of Japan! The total number of participants exceeds 100,000 students.

July 2019
The program is held overseas for the first time: the Challenge for Tomorrow School is held at a school for Japanese students in Singapore.

September 2020
The program is resumed during the COVID-19 pandemic: safety guidelines are established and followed.

October 2020
The Challenge for Tomorrow School achieves its goal of visiting a total of 1,000 schools! The total number of participants exceeds 150,000 students.

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Haruo Wanibe

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