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“Tokyo 2020 is My Guiding Beacon”: Table Tennis Star Yukimi Chada Aims for Her Destined Tournament

To Yukimi Chada, her dream of participating in the Paralympic Games has always been her life’s guiding beacon. There was never a time when that dream left her heart—not when she held herself back from saying she wanted to compete on a world stage out of consideration for financial issues; not even when she cried tears of disappointment after being crushed at an international tournament. We talked to her about the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which she describes as a tournament she feels destined for.

Her Dream Lived on Even When She Hesitated to Say it Out Loud

Chada first started thinking about the Paralympic Games during her senior year in junior high school when she won at the National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities. She innocently decided to aim for the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. But once she set her dream as her goal, she began to hesitate to say it out loud.

Yukimi Chada, a top women’s wheelchair para-table tennis player

Yukimi Chada (hereafter “Chada”): When I thought about things realistically, I realized it would take a lot of money to compete overseas. I had already been causing my parents a lot of worry and stress ever since I started using a wheelchair when I was nine years old, so I felt bad asking them to pay for my dream as well. I was also worried about whether I had the stamina to physically travel abroad to compete. So I slowly stopped saying I wanted to aim for the Paralympic Games.

As she continued to compete, the dream that Chada had hidden deep in her heart resurfaced again in 2012. It was when she won the Para Table Tennis Championships by International Classification, which is the most prestigious tournament in Japan.

Chada: The coach of the national team at the time encouraged me to aim for the Paralympic Games. My parents said, “If that’s what you want to do, we’re here to support you.” There were times when I didn’t know what I wanted to do and when I felt inferior to other players, but I didn’t think I could let go of my dream of competing in the Paralympic Games. It was always somewhere in my heart, so I decided to reach for it.

The Key to Chada’s Growth: Becoming So Frustrated She Dashed Out of the Venue

Chada set off to a good start, winning a bronze medal at the ITTF Korea Para Open 2015. But the following year, she entered the ITTF Slovenia Para Open 2016, which was filled with top players from around the world. She realized just what she was up against on the international level. This experience spurred her growth.

Chada: There were so many strong players. I got crushed. I felt like a fool and was so frustrated that I couldn’t stay inside the venue anymore, so I dashed outside. But what I felt most strongly at the time was, “One day, I’m going to beat them.”

Since Chada started competing, there was one move that she had the utmost confidence in: the push shot, which puts a backspin on the ball and lures the opponent into making a mistake. But after realizing that the push and her receiving techniques weren’t enough to compete against the world, she drastically changed her style.

Chada: My issue was not having enough offense skills. So I started practicing a lot of offensive drive spins and smashes. At the Slovenia Para Open the next year, I was able to beat a lot of higher-level players. Comparing videos of my matches in 2016 to those in 2017, I could clearly see that I was going on the offensive more, so I felt that I had improved.

Feeling Destined to Play Table Tennis and Compete in the Paralympic Games

Chada has an unusually strong aspiration to compete in Tokyo 2020

Chada continued to gain experience at international tournaments and rose to be No. 14 in the world. If she could raise her rank to No. 10, she would be able to qualify for Tokyo 2020 through her own performance. That was where she stood in March 2020. Then COVID-19 struck. Tournaments were canceled one after another and Tokyo 2020 was postponed. The worldwide pandemic changed everything.

Chada: The tournaments I was scheduled to enter got canceled, so I wasn’t able to qualify based on my world ranking. To qualify on my own now, I need to win at the World Qualification Tournament. But I was nervous because we didn’t know when it would be held (it was postponed from May 2020 to April 2021). But I received a lot of messages from friends and family who support me, asking if I was alright and cheering me on. It was really encouraging.

The Paralympic Games is a dream Chada won’t give up on. Ever since starting table tennis in her junior high school freshman year, the sport has been what she lives for. Her aspiration to compete in the Paralympic Games has always driven her forward, so she feels like it’s her destiny.

Chada: If senior students hadn’t been volunteering at para-table tennis events, they may not have invited me to play, saying, “Why not give it a try? You can play in a wheelchair too.” If my co-worker hadn’t found that job advertisement, I may not have moved to Tokyo. Then once I started to compete in earnest, Tokyo was selected to host the Paralympic Games. I feel like everything was leading me to the destiny of aiming for the Paralympic Games, including the fact that I became a wheelchair user. I’ve been guided by fate and all the people who have supported me, so I definitely want to participate. I believe performing my best at the Games is a way of giving back. My immediate goal is to qualify, but my ultimate goal is to win a medal as a top player in the world. And if I’m going to go for a medal, I want the gold. I need to be aiming for the top of the world, so that’s what I’m doing.

Chada posed for a picture with a smile and her racket

Although there’s always the chance to participate in Tokyo 2020 through the Bipartite invitation system, Chada’s goal right now is to win at the World Qualification Tournament in April 2021 and qualify on her own. The step after that will be to reach for the top on the stage she has been destined to stand on. Her unwillingness to lose and her gratitude for all the courage she has received is taking shape right now as she heads to fulfill her ultimate goal.

text by Takaya Hirano
photo by Hiroaki Yoda

Photography assistance: T4 TOKYO

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