Some may see the Special Olympics World Games Competition as the ultimate goal, but for 28-year-old Kazushige ‘Kazu’ Takeuchi, it’s only part of his journey to overcome his limits, to excel and succeed.
Kazu (2nd from left) celebrates his 4th place win with his fellow teammates.
From Athens to Pyeongchang
Kazu’s mother brought him to Special Olympics Nippon when he was 13 years old, as she worried that Kazu was spending too much time indoors drawing and playing video games. He tried various sports in the beginning, and went to two World Games in 2003 (Ireland, Summer) and 2005 (Nagano, Winter) as an educational liaison and Global Youth Summit participant. For the past two years, his focus has been on athletics and cross country skiing.
In 2011, for the first time, Kazu was selected as an athlete in the Athens World Summer Games, competing in the 100m run, 4x100m relay and Long Jump, new categories that challenged his fitness. The training camps in Japan before the Games affected his confidence. He was used to running 50m on the local level. When training began, he did not have the stamina to sprint 100m. He compared himself with the other athletes, and felt he “cannot run like others do.” Nonetheless, Kazu carried on training, but travelled to Athens not expecting to win any medals.
But something happened when Kazu started competition there. Maybe it was the electrifying atmosphere in the stadium. Maybe it was seeing so many other athletes, united in the same purpose – to compete, to give their best. Maybe it was the camaraderie he enjoyed with his coach and teammates. Maybe it was the crowds, cheering the athletes on. It seemed to move Kazu, spur him to give it his all.
Competing in Athens was an eye opener for Kazu. At the long jump event, he saw other athletes jumping higher than he did. He realized there were better athletes than himself, on an international level. At the 100m run event, he narrowly missed out on the Bronze.
As he predicted, Kazu left Athens without a medal. But he broke all his personal best records.
For some, a medal equals “victory.” Kazu’s family and coaches expressed regret that he didn’t win a medal in Athens. But Kazu didn’t mind, responding cheerfully “I broke my own record. I am happy with it.” He promised himself: “I will train harder aiming at next World Games.”
Since his return, Kazu devoted himself to training, practicing freestyle in cross country skiing. His coach taught him how to roller ski so that he could practice without snow. They also worked on technique to correct Kazu’s form.
At the next 2013 World Winter Games, Kazu will compete in cross country skiing. This time, armed with training and the Athens experience, his goal is clear: “I am going to win a medal.”