TOKYO: Born with a paralyzed arm and left homeless by Japan’s 2011 tsunami, schoolgirl skier Yurika Abe has overcome severe hardships to compete at the Sochi Paralympics—and she carries the hopes of her fellow disaster victims with her.
The 18-year-old’s move to the big stage comes just three winters after she took up cross-country skiing, clutching a single pole in her right hand.
She skied six kilometres and fired off 10 rifle shots to finish 13th in the woman’s short standing biathlon on Saturday in her Paralympic debut on Russia’s Black Sea coast.
On Tuesday, three years to the day after monster waves ravaged Japan’s northeast coast, Abe will tune up on the eve of another battle—the third of six cross-country and biathlon races which she has determinedly signed up for in Sochi.
“I will try to ski in a way that gives energy to people back home as I feel them cheering me on,” Abe told a send-off rally before leaving her home prefecture of Iwate in early February.
Her high school headmaster Hiroshi Kikuchi praised his student, saying he hoped she could “show we have not been defeated by the disaster.”
Abe hails from the fishing town of Yamada, which lost more than 800 residents and several thousand homes, including her own, in the 2011 disaster.
On March 11 that year, a massive 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake unleashed a towering tsunami that smashed into the Japanese coast.
More than 18,000 people were killed, and damage caused to the Fukushima nuclear plant sparked the worst atomic accident in a generation.
Abe’s efforts are the latest example of the immense role sport has played in the healing process for the region, as top Japanese athletes both encouraged victims and took inspiration from their struggle.
At the Sochi Olympics, Japan’s 19-year-old sensation Yuzuru Hanyu, who hails from the tsunami-hit city of Sendai, won the men’s figure skating gold medal—Japan’s only title of the Games, which also made him the first Japanese man to win an Olympic figure skating gold and the youngest Olympic men’s champion in 66 years.