By Makoto Yano / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterRIO DE JANEIRO — Table tennis player Kimie Bessho, 68, the oldest athlete in Japan’s delegation, on Saturday wore 39 butterfly-shaped hair accessories to express her gratitude to those who have supported her.
The numbers “3” and “9” when spoken in Japanese sound close to “Thank you” in English.
At the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics, Bessho lost 3-0 to her South Korean opponent in the quarterfinals of the women’s singles class 5 event, one of the divisions for wheelchair users.
The seasoned player earned points with the technique she has honed for the latest Games, putting spin on the ball to make it fly high but fall close to the net and out of her opponent’s reach.
Bessho was 39 when her husband died of an illness. Two years later, she was diagnosed with cancer in her pelvic area and eventually had to use a wheelchair after undergoing two operations.
Even after leaving the hospital, Bessho stayed at home as she suffered severe pain. She wondered why she was still alive and thought many times that she should kill herself.
However, Bessho found herself fascinated by table tennis after starting the sport at 45, and the activity helped her overcome the anxiety and sorrow triggered by her disease.
Bessho made her Paralympic debut in Athens in 2004 and finished fifth in the following two Games in Beijing and London.
For Rio de Janeiro, Bessho trained her upper body — even when drinking tea by sitting on a balance ball — and tried to improve her visual acuity by juggling beanbags with numbers on them.