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Visually impaired marathon runner from Fukushima hopes to inspire others

Chiemi Kimura holds her medal awarded to those who completed the 10-kilometer Tokyo Marathon race, with her guide dog Purasu, at the Aizuwakamatsu city hall in Fukushima Prefecture, on March 8. (Mainichi/Seiichi Yuasa)

AIZUWAKAMATSU, Fukushima -- A 58-year-old visually impaired woman in this northeastern Japan city who recently completed a short-course marathon hopes to inspire others through her efforts.

Chiemi Kimura finished the 10-kilometer course of the Tokyo Marathon for the first time on March 3, in a time of 1 hour, 29 minutes and 12 seconds.

The woman at one point could not even exercise due to diabetes, but with medical nutrition therapy and other treatment, she recovered enough to run. She trained hard with emotional support from her guide dog Purasu, a 5-year-old male.

"Though I didn't have a good marathon time, I'm satisfied with how I ran. I want people to know that even those with disabilities can achieve their goals if they try hard," the 58-year-old commented.

When she was 33, Kimura suddenly developed blurred vision and lost her sight. The woman visited a hospital and was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy. She still has hazy vision even after undergoing corneal transplants to restore her sight in her right and left eyes 8 and 10 years ago, respectively.

Around the same time, Kimura was repeatedly hospitalized as her diabetes symptoms worsened. She was instructed by her doctor not to carry heavy luggage or exercise as it would have a negative effect on her eyes. The woman began not to care about her life anymore.

Under recommendations from her family, Kimura later began to live with a seeing-eye dog. Although the woman had developed a closed-off personality, the dog enabled her to travel to many places and helped broaden her horizons. She currently visits schools in the Aizu region to promote awareness about the use of guide dogs, along with Purasu, her second assistance dog. He is the only seeing-eye dog in Aizuwakamatsu and has become Kimura's motivation to live.

Kimura was introduced to marathon running three years ago when an acquaintance invited her to an event. She felt "refreshed" as her mind and soul were freed of thoughts while running. Kimura took part in several marathons in various places, such as the city's Tsurugajo castle half marathon. Before long, participating in the Tokyo Marathon and running through the city center became one of her goals.

However, many people apply to run in the Tokyo Marathon and the chance of qualifying in the lottery is less than 10 percent. Kimura didn't expect anything when she applied, but luckily she was chosen to take part in the 10-kilometer visually impaired women's race. Purasu watched his owner compete from the roadside. The 58-year-old recalled that she enjoyed receiving explanations from an escort runner about the Tokyo area during the race.

"I feel confident after completing (the race). It reminded me of the joy of living cheerfully and healthily," Kimura stated. She held her medal awarded to finishers with a smile and said, "It feels like I've won a gold medal."

(Japanese original by Seiichi Yuasa, Aizuwakamatsu Local Bureau)

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