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The Reason Why I Continue to Swim
- Participant in 5 Consecutive Paralympics -

Mr. Junichi Kawai

After the group ceremony for Japanese athletes of the Paralympics, Waseda athletes gathered together and pledged their performance in the games. (From left) Mr. Takayuki Suzuki (Swimming, 4th year in School of Education), Mr. Tomoki Tagawa (Short Distance Running, Graduate School of Science and Engineering), Ms. Mami Sato (Long Jump, 2004 graduate from the School of Commerce), Mr. Junichi Kawai, Mr. Junpei Kimura (Swimming, 2007 graduate from the School of Education).

Junichi Kawai is a completely blind swimmer who has competed in 5 consecutive Paralympics, beginning with the Barcelona Paralympics which were held in 1992 (graduated from the School of Education in 1998 and completed the Master's Program in the Graduate School of Education in 2005). However, according to Mr. Kawai, the critical situation surrounding sports for the disabled in Japan has remain unchanged in the 16 years since he began competing. Mr. Kawai worked as instructor after graduating from Waseda University, and he now contributes to the field of education through his post as a supervisor of instruction in the Special Education Support Section of the Education Support Division at The Comprehensive Education Center of Shizuoka Prefecture. Mr. Kawai continues to swim and compete in order to convey the appeal of sports for disabled athletes and to gain increased understanding for such sports. He seeks his 4th consecutive gold medal in Beijing.

16 years have passed since the Barcelona Paralympics, which were the first Paralympics in which Mr. Kawai competed. At the time, Mr. Kawai was 17 years old and was less happy at being chosen as a competitor but rather happy at his first chance to travel overseas. Then, Mr. Kawai won a gold medal in the 50 meter freestyle in the Atlanta Paralympics when he was a 3rd year university student. He continued to win gold medals at the Sydney and Athens Paralympics. While Mr. Kawai was greatly pleased with his accomplishments, there was still a low level of recognition towards sports for disabled athletes in Japan. This situation remains unchanged even now, when Mr. Kawai has reached 33 years of age. In order to take action for change, Mr. Kawai believes that he must continue to compete as a swimmer and appeal for increased recognition towards the difficulties facing disabled athletes who continue to participate in sports. Mr. Kawai never thought that he would be competing at his current age.

I wanted to become a teacher ever since I was in elementary school. After entering the Tsukuba University School for the Blind, Waseda University came to my mind as a place at which I wanted to attend university. I had heard that it was a good university from my high school teachers who were graduates of Waseda University. I decided to study education at Waseda and entered the School of Education through the AO entrance examination. After entering Waseda, I studied as hard as I could and received the Okuma Scholarship in my 2nd year. In my 3rd year, the year that I participated in the Atlanta Paralympics, I also took a teaching position. I didn't have any free time because I was extremely busy with practice and studying, but I had a very fulfilling student life. Currently, a personnel transfer has me working in relation to instructor training rather than at the school itself.

Among developed countries, it is particularly difficult to receive support towards sports for the disabled in Japan. Corporations and other organizations act as sponsors in America and Europe, and the government provides support in China. In Japan, while there is support and encouragement through volunteer activities and goodwill, there are almost no real systems of support. An area of immediate concern is costs for disable athletes who participate in world championships. Even for the Paralympics, the only costs which are supported are accommodation costs, transport costs, and a small allowance for clothing. This is very different treatment from Olympic athletes, who receive support from sponsors. Most Paralympic athletes have great difficult finding the money to continue competing.

A total of 9 persons from Waseda are participating in the Beijing Paralympics. This number includes both athletes and executives. I would like to use the Beijing Paralympics as an opportunity to start a Paralympic Tomonkai. The establishment of a Tomonkai would make different movements possible, and I would like to use the Tomonkai to introduce Waseda's sports for disabled athletes to the world. America's Ivy League schools have a wheelchair basketball league. It would be great if we could do this kind of thing in Japan too. I want to do something like these kinds of ideas. It's important to me because there is a reward and a commitment to competition when I continue to be an active athlete. But, even more than that, there is a message that I want to convey to society by continuing to compete. If the Olympics and Paralympics will be held in Tokyo in 2016, then I want to keep competing until then.

I believe that a change in the way of thinking is needed in all areas. Not only the environment surrounding sports, but also the way in which sports are perceived is different. Sports are not included in our work-life balance. They're not part of our culture. Areas such as sports and music are a kind of culture. They have the merit of enabling exchange between individuals without the use of words. For all these reasons, sports must be taken seriously. I also feel thrilled when I am finished swimming. It's not about whether communication is possible using words. This is what I want to convey.

A change at Waseda may lead to a change throughout the entire university system of Japan. If Waseda makes a movement in the area of sports for disabled athletes, even more changes may occur. I feel that the enlightening of society is also part of the destiny of a Waseda man.

Related URLs

Junichi Kawai: KEEPING ALIVE THE DREAMS
http://www.junswim.to/

The DVD Yume Oikakete (Chasing Dreams) is available for sale. This movie shows Mr. Kawai's life up until now.
http://www.anec.co.jp/012/series.html

Message to Beijing! Azure Sky: 22 Participants from Waseda
https://yab.yomiuri.co.jp/adv/wol/news/news_080730.htm