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13-yr-old made hearts soar worldwide with star turn at Tokyo Paralympics opening ceremony

Yui Wago, left, gestures during her performance as a one-winged airplane in the Tokyo Paralympic Games opening ceremony at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Aug. 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

TOKYO -- On the night of Aug. 24, one 13-year-old girl found the courage to roll out under the bright lights of the global stage, carving out a new experience for herself and taking the world along with her.

    Junior high school student Yui Wago had never acted before her star turn at the Tokyo Paralympics opening ceremony. But Wago, who uses a wheelchair and has a hereditary disability affecting her upper and lower limbs, built herself up inside to play a tiny airplane with one wing in a ceremony performance, and relate a story of overcoming anxiety and hardship.

    "I want everyone I've ever met to see me as I am now." That is the thought Wago held in her heart when she took the stage. Wago says she can't use her left hand well, so she mostly uses the right. And her opening ceremony airplane's wing was on the right side of her chair. One-winged, the little plane rolled to the start of a runway, and sped down it. The effort paid off, Wago's airplane lifting off and taking to the air.

    Yui Wago performs as a one-winged airplane in the Tokyo Paralympic Games opening ceremony at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Aug. 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Rei Kubo)

    The scene sparked an impassioned response, with posts including "That was amazing," and "That gave me strength" flooding social media. The International Paralympic Committee's Chief Brand and Communications Officer Craig Spence said the following day that a new star had been born in Japan, and that he, too, had been moved to tears by Wago's performance.

    Wago's own attitude to life is to give everything a try. She is a board member of a student council, plays in a brass band and does dance performances at athletic meets. And she was the judges' unanimous choice to be the Paralympic opening ceremony's heroine when she auditioned for the event.

    Once she had the role, the 13-year-old threw herself into it completely. During rehearsals, she was trying so hard that when the effort began to hurt her back, she had to be forced to stop. Seeing her dedication, opening ceremony performance chief Worry Kinoshita's trust in her only grew, and he commented, "She may not have any acting experience, but she has a hungry expressiveness, as well as a pure side, and seems very grown up."

    According to people close to the Games organizing committee, Wago dissolved into tears after her performance and said, "It was all over so fast. This was the last time we'll all do this together as a team, and I missed them and felt sad, and so many different emotions. So now I'm crying."

    But she then said, "I think this is another beginning. It was really a lot of fun."

    (Japanese original by Yu Kishimoto, Sports News Department)

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