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Wheelchair tennis star Kamiji sets lofty goals at Rio, Tokyo

Wheelchair tennis player Yui Kamiji smiles as she leads the Japanese Paralympic team into Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 7, 2016. (Mainichi)

Wheelchair tennis athlete Yui Kamiji led the Japanese delegation as the flag bearer during the opening ceremony of the Rio Paralympic Games on Sept. 7, but she is setting her sights even higher for the future.

As a third year high school student, Kamiji came in 8th at her first Paralympics in London in 2012. "I want to aim even higher," said the athlete, looking ahead to both the competition in Rio and the upcoming Tokyo Paralympics in 2020, where she hopes to represent Japan on the international stage.

Kamiji, 22, was born in Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, with spina bifida occulta, and had difficulty walking by her fourth year in elementary school. At a loss seeing her daughter unable to go outside and play like she wanted to, Kamiji's mother posted on internet forums and requested information about sports for people with disabilities.

The first sport Kamiji tried was wheelchair basketball before being introduced to wheelchair tennis. At age 15, she experienced her first international competition, and her distinctive social nature propelled her forward. Whenever she had a question about anything, she did her best to communicate using gestures and body language.

"I made friends with athletes from both Asia and the West, both male and female, and it became an incentive to interact even more," she recalled.

After graduating from high school, Kamiji considered moving on to study international relations or foreign languages at university and leaving tennis behind. But she changed her mind after playing a match in front of a nearly full stadium. "Everyone who came to the stadium took an interest in wheelchair tennis," she said, and after rediscovering her athletic spirit, tennis became the natural choice for her future.

After competing in London, Kamiji has continued to raise her skill level. In 2014, she won the Australian Open doubles competition, and went on to sweep all the doubles titles in the other Grand Slam tournaments that year, adding her name to the rankings of the world's top players.

Kamiji is expected to win a medal in Rio. "I'm not only playing to have fun, I am playing with a goal in mind," she said.

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