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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The price of family sacrifices to produce great athletes

Rika Kayama

Athletes are engaged in heated competition at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. I am watching the international sporting event on TV until very late at night, but whenever I see athletes who have won a medal say, "this is all thanks to my family's support" or "I want to thank my parents," I am reminded of a bitter memory.

It's about a woman with two children who came to be seen at a hospital I was working at after complaining about insomnia and fatigue. She also said she could not have a clear thinking process. It was believed that she was suffering from a typical case of depression, and I had her visit the hospital regularly and take medication, but her condition was not improving. She eventually started suggesting that she didn't want to live anymore, so we had her hospitalized after consulting with her and her husband.

One of her children was in a strong soccer club that was famous in the local community. One day, she told me in her hospital room that the club her son belonged to was special and that it had produced players who could aim to go professional or play in the Olympics, and that the club was "very strict."

"We need to give the club our utmost support as parents. I drive my son to and from soccer practice, care for his diet, keep track of his basic training at home and take care of the team members with other parents at their games and training camps. Without that level of support from the parents, kids won't become great players," she said, adding, "Please let me get out of here. My son must be feeling isolated in the team since I'm like this. I don't want to destroy his chance to become a great player."

While I gave her common-sense advice and told her, "Let's focus on your treatment first, for your son's sake," I asked myself if what I was doing was right. At the same time, I had this uncomfortable feeling that, in today's sports, athletes' families must sacrifice their own health to produce strong players.

In the end, the woman remained in the hospital longer than initially expected. Her stay probably affected her son and his involvement in the soccer club. I don't know what happened to her son after that. He might have quit the club because of his mother's illness.

It is wonderful when an athlete wins a medal at an Olympics while their family works as one to support them. There is no doubt about that. However, there are those who cannot support their family members even if they wanted to and there are others who don't have families willing to support them in the first place. I sometimes think that it would be ideal if kids can enjoy playing the sport they like as much as they want even without support from their families and good players are produced as a result of that.

If there was an athlete who said, "I didn't have much support from my family, but I did my best!" I would applaud that person with all of my heart. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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