The following post was written by Karyn.
Nippon (Japan) is the latest Asia Pacific Program to offer young athletes with an intellectual disability a early start in the Special Olympics community. A pioneer group of 10 Young Athletes began their experience at Kanagawa (west of Tokyo) in August this year.
Under the coaches’ encouraging guidance, the energetic athletes honed their motor skills through a fun obstacle course. “With every jump, kick and foot balance, they showed us remarkable potential,” says Special Olympics Nippon’s Sayaka Sonobe.
Sayaka sees Young Athletes as a great foundation course for the athletes to learn basic sports and communication skills, helping them transition into regular Special Olympics training later on. “It benefits the coaches too, because the athletes have that skills set, which helps training for competitions.”
Young Athletes is launched in Japan’s Kanagawa, Aichi and Kumamoto prefectures this year, with a long term vision to offer the Program in all of Japan’s prefectures.
For Misae Katsumata, mother of 5 year old Kei-ichiro, this first Young Athletes event changed her outlook on his future:
“Seeing Kei-ichiro run around, perspiring, laughing, mixing freely with others and not holding on to tail end of my skirt all the time, makes me cry tears of happiness and restores my hope that he can be independent one day. Now I dare to dream and plan to enjoy sports with my son when he grows up.”