Fists Held High In Joy

The convivial atmosphere of the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games was a catalyst for Mio Osato to blossom, and gave her father a new dream.

A Father's Dream

 Mio Osato (right) together with her coach and father Hiroki Osato.

Twenty year old Mio Osato is mute and has a severe form of autism. There are limited people, apart from Mio’s father who can understand Mio’s facial expressions. This year she was selected to represent Special Olympics Nippon for Track and Field in the World Summer Games, and returned with a Silver for 1500m Track and Field, and Bronze for 3000m. Hiroki Osato, Mio’s father, shares Mio’s story in his own words:

“I have loved Europe since I was young. So, I named my daughter Mio which means ‘beautiful Europe’ in Japanese. I hoped that she would be an educator, artist or musician when she grew up. However, when Mio was three, she was diagnosed as severely autistic. This ripped my dream apart.


Mio gets a Running Start

As Mio got older, I started running with her, to use aerobic exercise to stimulate her brain activity. Under my coaching, Mio trained regularly. I was invested in her progress, and my sole intention was for her to improve.

Six years ago Mio competed in the prefectural athletic games for people with disabilities. She ran 1500m in 8 minutes. Three years later, she won first place for the same category with a time of 6 minutes 29 seconds. From then on, she represented her prefecture at the school marathon race, state competition and national competition. Special Olympics Nippon welcomed her into their group three years ago.


Athens: A Time to Shine

When Mio was selected to represent Japan for the World Summer Games in Athens, I was concerned her communication problems would isolate her from the team. But I need not have worried. Her team mates and athletes from other countries were kind and encouraging throughout the Games. Mio responds by holding up her fists to show joy, and shakes hands with other athletes at the race.

At the awards ceremony, where Mio won Silver for 1500m in Track and Field, she stood next to a girl who was placed fourth in the race. This girl excitedly told Mio to pose for the cameras. As the two interacted, Mio looked steadily at her face. She normally does not maintain this eye contact - she does this only to someone she is fond of. One of the coaches said the girl was very friendly to Mio at the athlete waiting area before the ceremony started.

When Mio returned to her team after the ceremony, one of her teammates welcomed her with a big smile. She hugged Mio around the shoulders as they took pictures together.

Because of her autism and muteness, I had already given up hope and accepted that Mio will not have friends. But, here she is with her friends in Athens. My eyes filled with tears.


Making new Dreams

Mio and I have lived by ourselves since she was four. We are always together – except once when she was away on a school trip for four days. I do wonder how she will carry on alone when I pass away. We need to train ourselves to be independent. At this point, the World Games was a good opportunity for us to experience that. Mio stayed with the team without me for more than two weeks – I believe she gained confidence from this.

I was moved to see that Mio was not in the World Games alone, but surrounded by her teammates who brought her joy. During this time, she held her fists up and shook hands when encouraged by others. I believe if she is exposed constantly to similar experiences, one day she will be able to express her joy. This is our new dream.”