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55-yr-old wheelchair athlete aims to turn back the clock

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Tomoya Ito pumps his fist after winning the gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics in September 2008.

The Yomiuri ShimbunTomoya Ito, a gold medalist in a wheelchair race at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, is looking to get back into the game.

The 55-year-old native of Mie Prefecture had previously retired due to a decline in his condition, but now aspires to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Ito’s Paralympic story began in 1998 when he suddenly collapsed and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Only 34 at the time and running his own staffing agency, Ito had to use a wheelchair due to paralysis in his lower body.

When he ordered his wheelchair, however, by mistake a manufacturer of wheelchairs for sports came to take his measurements, which inspired him to take on wheelchair racing.

Ito debuted at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, going on to win gold at the Beijing Games and silver at the 2012 London Games, after which he retired.

He announced his return to racing in 2017, partly because he was urged to participate in the Tokyo Games by Anri Sugihara, president of Saitama Prefecture-based RDS Co., which specializes in industrial design and welfare equipment. After a chance meeting, Sugihara encouraged Ito to compete and offered to make a custom wheelchair for him.

A prototype of the carbon-fiber wheelchair was unveiled in Tokyo last month. Unlike previous sports wheelchairs that Ito had used after obtaining them in the market, the new model was designed based on a detailed analysis of his body and form. It takes into account the smooth movement of his arms and the appropriate position of his head.

“We designed the wheelchair so Ito can maintain his sharp form in different track and weather conditions,” Sugihara said.

The wheelchair is scheduled to be completed in September. Ito hopes to compete in three events, including the 100-meter sprint, at the Tokyo Games under the sponsorship of a pharmaceutical company.

The custom-made wheelchair has lifted Ito’s spirits.

“I’m feeling good and looking forward to what comes next, even though I sometimes feel the effects of my age,” he said. “I’m targeting a gold medal and world record at the Tokyo Paralympics.”

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Tomoya Ito, left, and Anri Sugihara, president of RDS Co., unveil a prototype of sports wheelchair custom made for Ito, in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on May 18.

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