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Idol in wheelchair after billboard accident finds connection with para-sports: interview

Tomoka Igari, a member of the idol group "Kamenjoshi," is seen in this photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Oct. 4, 2018. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- Tomoka Igari, member of a popular indie idol group who was crushed by a falling billboard in April, leaving her in a wheelchair, has found a connection with para-sports while maintaining her career as an entertainer.

The 26-year-old member of idol group "Kamenjoshi," threw the first ceremonial pitch at a professional baseball game on Sept. 9, in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, while in her wheelchair. She also attended an opening event for the 18th National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities held in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, in mid-October. In the following interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Igari speaks of her participation in para-sports and her expectations ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

Mainichi: What motivated you to venture into para-sports?

Tomoka Igari: I was largely affected by the words of former track-and-field athlete So Takei, who is closely associated with para-athletes. While I was still in the hospital, he told me, "Many para-athletes say they 'lead a better life' than before they got injured." Sports prevent physical deterioration, too.

M: What kind of sports do you want to try?

TI: I swam for 12 years, but I didn't receive professional training. I played tennis in junior high school, and I've played table tennis as part of my rehabilitation. I'm not thinking right now about reaching the level of the Paralympics, but I want to engage (in para-sports) properly, not just at the hobby level. I hope to make up my mind on a sport to focus on after trying out everything.

M: What are your impressions of para-athletes?

TI: They need a considerable amount of preparation and mental fortitude to perform in front of other people. And that's why they can encourage others. I think they're amazing.

M: What are your hopes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games?

TI: I've become aware of more issues after using a wheelchair in everyday life. Places that I never felt were inconvenient when walking are different now that I'm in a wheelchair. I hope more facilities incorporate universal design on the assumption that all kinds of people across the world will come (to the 2020 Tokyo Games).

M: What do you think about one of the themes of the 2020 Tokyo Games, to promote the "realization of an inclusive society" where people with diverse backgrounds including those with disabilities can shine?

TI: I haven't gone as far as thinking about taking on a role to help those with disabilities participate fully in society. But I would be happy if anyone was motivated or felt uplifted by watching me. I want to listen to various stories from the para-athletes who have overcome their injuries and given courage to everyone, and learn more about the Paralympics.

(Japanese original by Taro Iiyama, Sports News Department)

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