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【Center News】 Find the Perfect Sport for You:Kick Off "My Para! Find My Parasport"!

On April 19, the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center announced the launch of its"My Para! Find My Parasport" website to support people who want to start a parasport.

With the new "My Para!" website, users can easily search sports by disabilities and find teams in their area. It offers information on the 27 sports (22 summer and 5 winter) currently held in the Paralympic Games, with plans to include non-Paralympic sports by the summer of 2017.

Aiming to offer information and help promote parasports

Nao Ozawa, Chief Executive Officer of the Paralympic Support Center, talked of the purpose of launching the website. "It has always been difficult for people wanting to start a parasport to find information on what sports they can do and where they can start them. We also saw an increase in related inquiries after the Rio Paralympic Games last year. In order to help promote parasports, we wanted to offer information to those who want it and help them actually start."

As Ozawa says, parasports are still not hugely popular. More than 40% of non-disabled people play a sport more than once a week. The same percentage is 19% for disabled people.
Another characteristic is that the average age of Japanese athletes who attended the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games (34) is higher than that of the Olympic Games. Ozawa believes one reason for this is the lack of popularity of parasports among younger people.

The hope is that "My Para!" will contribute to promoting parasports among younger people and increasing the level of Japanese athletes by the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Top athletes call for the use of the website

Narita, once an Olympic-hopeful

At the press release, Junichi Kawai, Chairman of the Paralympians Association of Japan, moderated a talk session with three para athletes representing Japan: wheelchair rugby player Shinichi Shimakawa, badminton player Akiko Sugino and snowboarder Gurimu Narita. They used the "My Para!" website before the event and announced their results.

"My Para!" offers two main functions, the "parasport assessment" and "team search." The three athletes first tried the "parasport assessment," which finds sports suited to the user based on eight questions regarding type of disability, preferences in sports, personality and more.
Shimakawa and Sugino were matched to their current specialties, wheelchair rugby and badminton, but Narita was not matched with one of his, snowboarding.

"My results were equestrian first, athletics second and powerlifting third. Athletics is a good match (I competed in the high jump). But if I had this website when I started parasports, I may be doing a different sport now." (laughing)

Narita talked of his struggles in finding information when starting parasports. In April 2013, just after winning the 2013 Junior World Ski Championships in freestyle skiing, he was injured during trampoline practice and was left with paralysis in his left leg.

"My dream was to inspire people through sports. So after my injury, when I was told I may not be able to play sports anymore, my world turned dark. But then I found that I can still inspire others with a disability... After that I looked for a possible sport and called so many places, like the Table Tennis Association and Swimming Federation, just to find information. The Association of Athletics told me there was going to be a para identification event, and that was how I started athletics."

Narita's story tells of how difficult it can be for a disabled person to find information such as what parasport he/she can do. "My Para!" is a response to the many people, like Narita, looking for information on parasports.

Mr. Kawai (right), a gold-medalist swimmer, was moderator for the friendly talk session.

Tackling the difficulty of finding places to practice

After using the "para sport assessment" to find a parasport and learn what the sport is like, the next step is to find where one can start that sport. That is where the "team search" comes in.
Users can easily search for teams by sport or region. This may also help top athletes who are struggling to find practice locations.

During the talk session Shimakawa said, "Many gymnasiums do not welcome wheelchair rugby players because they are afraid the wheelchairs will damage the floor, although they actually don't. The lack of places to practice is a problem." Sugino said, "I don't have a set location, so for each practice session I contact disability club teams. Sometimes I am constantly looking for a place to practice and go to a different gymnasium everyday."

The website expects to work on this problem by getting one thousand teams registered by year 2020.

Shimakawa, bronze-medalist wheelchair rugby player

Sugino, Tokyo Paralympic-hopeful badminton player

Para athletes' expectations in "My Para!"

At the end of the talk session, all three athletes talked about their expectations in "My Para!" to help promote sports among disabled people, as well as their own goals.

"The wheelchair rugby population is low, particularly in the younger generation. I hope 'My Para!' will help younger people find out about wheelchair rugby, and I hope more young athletes emerge to overthrow older athletes like me (40s). (laughing) When we won the bronze medal at the Rio Paralympic Games, I felt such a sense of disappointment while listening to the national anthem of gold medal team Australia. So I want to get the gold in 2020, and I hope I will still be playing on the court." (Shimakawa)

"There are still many young people who do not know about parasports. But I think 'My Para!' can help to increase the para athlete population. I think people can start a sport casually—they don't have to want to go to the Paralympics. Once they start, it will open up more doors from there.
As for my goal right now, the biggest one is to get a medal at the 2020 Paralympic Games. This year we have the world championships in Korea and next year the Asia Championships in Indonesia. I hope to achieve my goals at each of these events and diligently work towards 2020." (Sugino)

"There is not enough information on parasports. I believe 'My Para!' will definitely help promote parasports. I wish we had something like this before. I myself was able to come back to a happier place when I found out about parasports.
My main goal is the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics next year. For now I expect to spend a lot of time on that. My performance is still not very stable, so next season I hope to be more stable and get a higher rating." (Narita)

Moderator Kawai concluded the talk session with the powerful words, "The important thing is for more people to learn about parasports, through websites like this and more."

Project leader Maeda explained how to use the website.

The athletes talked about their sports' environments.

text&photo by Parasapo
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