The Yomiuri ShimbunHaruka and Junko Hirose could hardly suppress their joy. The two will be heading to Rio de Janiero this summer, not only as husband and wife, but as members of Japan’s visually impaired judo team after both earned berths at the domestic Paralympics qualifying tournament.
The 36-year-old Haruka will represent Japan in the men’s 90-kilogram division, while Junko, 25, will compete in the women’s 57-kilogram class. According to the Japanese Para-Sports Association, it is rare for a married couple to take part in the same Paralympic Games.
As Junko waited for her last match at the Rio qualifier held on May 4 at the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo, Haruka, who had already clinched his ticket to Rio, sat next to her and said in a gentle voice: “It’s no problem. You’re strong.”
Encouraged by her husband’s words, Junko pinned down her opponent with a scarf hold for an ippon victory.
“Yes! We did it!” the couple shouted together.
Haruka, who took up judo in his second grade of primary school, was diagnosed with glaucoma while studying at Ehime Prefectural Uwajima Higashi High School. He was good enough to take part in the Inter-High School Championships in his third year, but soon after became almost completely blind in his left eye. He turned down recruitment offers from universities and corporate teams.
Amid his feelings of despair, he picked up judo again at the prefecture-run school for the blind, and competed at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. It was at a tournament four years ago that he met Junko.
Junko, who attended Yamaguchi Prefectural Saikyo High School, also took part in the Inter-High School Championships. But in her first year of university, she began losing her eyesight due to a vascular disease. Sharing similar circumstances, the pair gradually grew closer, and after about 10 months of dating, they married in December last year.
Since then, the Hiroses have practiced together every day. “Now I’m not able to slack off,” said Haruka with a smile. Junko benefited from joining her husband on the mountain runs which he does to cut weight. “It has increased my stamina,” she said.
As Haruka’s vision is slightly better than his wife’s, he guides her by holding her hand as they walk home after their nightly training sessions. At home, Junko is in charge of cleaning, but if she misses a spot, Haruka is on hand to wipe it clean.