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Tomoki Sato, Gold Medal Contender for Tokyo 2020, Gives a Special Class in an Elementary School

There are now less than 100 days until the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. To mark this occasion, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center held a special open class at Akasaka Elementary School (Minato City), a school that has emphasized the importance of the Paralympic Games, diversity, and inclusive societies in their education, on May 14.

Tomoki Sato (Remotely) Teaches Students the Key to Achieving Your Dreams

The class was held in two parts. The first half consisted of an online lecture by Tomoki Sato of para athletics, gold medal contender in his wheelchair T52 Class. As a precaution against the COVID-19 pandemic, the class was held remotely, with Sato speaking to the students through a large screen placed at the front of the gymnasium.

Sato had started using a wheelchair at the age of 21, due to an illness. For him, seeing the Paralympians on TV, sprinting their way across the screen, had been inspirational, given him the power to move forward again. And so he began para athletics, going on to win a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. He recounted his success story—how his being outspoken about his dream had gotten others involved, and gotten him the environment he needed to focus on his athletic career. His advice came from a place of personal experience and empathy.

Tomoki Sato, para athletics athlete and gold medal contender, gave a lecture on achieving your dreams
photo by Parasapo

“Even when things are difficult, you have to set your own goals, your own dreams—actually talk about them, and make them come true. That’s been my attitude, and I’m hoping that in seeing that, these kids will dream bigger, start working toward their own dreams.”

This was Sato’s hope in giving the lecture. The theme of the lecture: “Dreams are to be achieved.” He showed the students actual videos of himself running in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and afterwards, asked the students, “What are your dreams?”

In response, six students raised their hands, voicing their own dreams. One student, for instance, wanted to be a veterinarian.

Lots of students raised their hands to talk to Sato, who was giving the lecture remotely photo by Tokyo 2020

Later, Sato gave a presentation on his athletic career, unraveling the steps that had allowed him to achieve his dream. First, set a goal: win a medal in Rio 2016. Then, move immediately into action: looking for tournaments to enter as soon as he started the sport, and moving houses to find a better training environment. Then, use your strength: working his way to the top in his two best events, the 400m and 1,500m.

“Any time I could’ve spent pondering why I wouldn’t be able to do something, I’ve put into action instead.” “I realized I was good at this, and that I could get even better if I worked for it! That was really exciting.” The students listened, riveted.

The students were intent, taking notes as they listened to Sato’s lecture photo by Parasapo

Sato then asked the students what they thought the fourth step would be. “Effort,” “not giving up,” the students offered. Sato’s answer, however, was to voice your dream, instead of hiding it.

“Believe in it enough, and it won’t matter if other people laugh at you. Just try it—just talk about your dream. Start there,” said Sato gently.

Finally, there was a Q&A session in which Sato responded to questions from the students. Hands shot in the air as students asked questions like “What does athletics mean to you?” and “How many hours do you train a day?” When asked, “What was the toughest thing you’ve experienced so far?” Sato said it was winning the silver medal in Rio—when he’d gone to win a gold instead. “In Tokyo, I promise to set a new world record, and win two gold medals. When that happens, I’ll come show you guys the gold medals, so I’m counting on your support,” he said, to close off the session.

The Secret to an Inclusive Society, as Presented by the Children Themselves

The second half of the class consisted of presentations from the students themselves. As fourth-year students, these students had spent a year in their comprehensive learning class working on their Universal Design in Akasaka projects. Now fifth-years, they presented their projects in the class.

The students presented alongside guest lecturer Seiji Arai, an amputee football star who is working to have amputee football established as an official Paralympic sport. They said confidently, “There’s no reason to feel bad for people with disabilities. Everyone has things they don’t like to do and things they’re bad at. So what’s important is putting yourself in other people’s shoes, and trying to help each other as much as we can.” They also discussed ways in which they could raise public recognition of amputee football and got the lower-year students to try parasports, showing them how fun and difficult parasports could be, and how cool it is to be para-athletes.

In part two, 70 fifth-year students performed the TOKYO 2020 Para Sports Dance!, a dance emulating the 22 sports in the Paralympic Games, in a show of support for the athletes. The TOKYO 20020 Para Sports Dance! was choreographed as a collaboration between Someity, one of the official mascots of Tokyo 2020, and the Baby Shark video, which has been enormously popular with children worldwide. The students, who had put in considerable practice for this performance, danced the whole thing through, spurred on by the rhythmic, high-tempo music.

Various debates are still underway over the hosting of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Amidst all of this, Sato said he was grateful for the support the children had shown him. “To see them so happy, so energized even during this pandemic—it gave me strength.”

These children have learned a lot about parasports and about the Paralympic Games. Fifth-year student Maezawa said, “I was able to hear about sports that I already knew, and learn about new sports I didn’t know at all, so it was really nice.”

Another fifth-year student, Chinen, said this about Sato’s lecture: “Voice your dreams, don’t be afraid, and work hard. And if your dream doesn’t come true, then don’t give up—just set a new one, and keep working toward it. Him living his life that way, it’s inspiring.”

Paralympic education continues, even under the COVID-19 pandemic. On this day too, the bravery and perseverance of these athletes, the way they’ve carved open their own futures, inspired these children, hopefully giving them the bravery to pursue their own dreams, and carve their own paths through the future.

text by TEAM A
key visual by Tokyo 2020

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