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Idol in wheelchair after accident to throw first pitch at baseball game

Tomoka Igari, a member of the idol group "Kamenjoshi," acknowledges cheers from fans at a live concert in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Aug. 26, 2018, where she announced her comeback. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A 26-year-old member of a popular indie idol group who has used a wheelchair since she was hit by a falling billboard in early April, is on the comeback trail and will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a professional baseball game on Sept. 9 in the Saitama Prefecture city of Tokorozawa.

Tomoka Igari, a member of "Kamenjoshi," literally meaning masked girls, was crushed under a billboard that fell in strong winds on April 11, as she was walking near the Yushima Seido temple in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward. The accident left Igari with severe spinal cord damage and other injuries, paralyzing both of her legs.

Seibu Lions player Ginjiro Sumitani suggested that Igari throw the first pitch in an attempt to cheer her up, considering that she was from Saitama Prefecture and a Seibu Lions fan. Igari will throw the first pitch in a Pacific League game between the Saitama Seibu Lions and the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The 26-year-old commented she would like to "make a new start" and indicated a willingness to venture into parasports sometime in the future.

There were times Igari struggled to accept the reality that differed severely from the life she spent as an idol on a glamorous stage, which made her think, "Why do I have to go through this?"

Igari's family, Kamenjoshi members, and fans provided emotional support for the distressed idol. "'Tomo-chan' is a girl who can entertain people and make them happy, and we'd be delighted to see her continue doing that in any way possible," her family said. The other members of Kamenjoshi promised, "We will keep a spot on the stage for you by holding exciting concerts, so you can come back anytime!" Igari stated in an official blog about a month after the accident, "I was repeatedly supported by everybody's kindness. Everyone's words cheered me up on nights when I was alone and anxious."

Igari appeared on stage on Aug. 26 in a wheelchair in front of around 200 fans at a live concert in Tokyo's Akihabara, where Kamenjoshi bases their activities, and she announced that she will resume her activities as a performer. Amid cries of "welcome back" from fans after she sang the last song with other Kamenjoshi members, Igari answered, "I'm back."

Igari previously threw a first pitch last year for a Seibu game. Lions player Sumitani, 31, suggested she "throw from the pitcher's mound again," when she visited the MetLife Dome in August. In reply to Igari's determination to "throw a ball without bouncing it, and bring excitement to the stadium," Sumitani sent a message stating, "All of us players are supporting you."

Recently, Igari is playing sports such as table tennis as part of her rehabilitation training. She stated her desire to "deliver energy and courage to many people" through parasports and other activities.

(Japanese original by Taro Iiyama, Sports News Department)

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