Tomotaro Nakamura was born without arms. When he was just 5 years old, his parents enrolled him in swimming classes to make sure he wouldn't drown if he fell into a body of water.
Nakamura took to the water like a natural.
“He has always had a great sense of balance under water,” said Tatsuya Otani, Nakamura's coach, who has watched his protege grow from a boy to a man--and into a successful Paralympic breaststroke swimmer.
On Sept. 1, the 28-year-old won the silver medal in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke for the physically impaired at the 2012 London Paralympics, bumping his head into the wall of the pool at the end of his race due to the sheer momentum of his swim.
Otani says the breaststroke is a natural event for Nakamura.
“With the breaststroke, swimmers give 70 to 80 percent of their force with the kick of their legs.” he said.
Nakamura had a natural strength and flexibility in his legs. With dedication and training, he was able to swim his way up to a top ranking in Japan.
Nakamura came in third at the 2004 Athens Paralympics, his first Paralympic Games. During the Athens Olympics, Nakamura studied the powerful kick of Japan's breaststroke ace Kosuke Kitajima and found a perfect role model.
After the Beijing Paralympics, where he failed to make the medals podium, Nakamura had surgery on his damaged knees. During the year he spent in rehab, he beefed up his leg muscles by training on a cycling machine as well as with other training methods. He also learned to kick more powerfully by closely studying film of Kitajima’s kicks.
Although he models much of his swimming after Kitajima, one signature to his races is all his own. At the end of each of his races, his momentum causes his head to collide with the pool wall with an audible "thud."
“I tried it once, but it was scary," Otani said. "I think there is a lot of fear in doing that.”
But Nakamura says he doesn’t feel any pain because he’s concentrating on the race so much.
Nakamura is not completely satisfied with how the Paralympic events are classified. For swimming, all athletes with physical impairments--regardless of whether they have arms or not--compete against one another. Blake Cochrane, the Australian swimmer who won the men’s 100-meter breaststroke event, had both arms and won the race by a large margin. Nakamura says they should classify athletes in more detail so they can compete against athletes with similar disabilities.
Despite these obstacles, however, Nakamura is proud to have given the Japanese swimming world its first medal at the London Paralympics.
“I hope this will give momentum to other athletes,” Nakamura said.
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