As he led Team Japan into London's Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Paralympic Games, flag-bearer Keiichi Kimura was positively beaming.
That smile has never left his face, especially after Sept. 3, when the 21-year-old blind swimmer won the silver medal in the 100-meter breaststroke.
“I think silver is a color that proves that I gave it everything I’ve got,” Kimura says.
Kimura lost his eyesight soon after birth. He studied at a boarding school for the visually impaired while growing up, and for junior and senior high school, he enrolled at the Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, University of Tsukuba.
There he met Makoto Teranishi, who has been Kimura's coach since junior high and has always had high praise for the swimmer.
“Kimura never feared being unable to see," Teranishi says. "He has never tried to run from difficult situations.”
At his first Paralympic Games in 2008 in Beijing, Kimura failed to medal. Afterward, he enrolled in Nihon University’s College of Humanities and Sciences and joined the swimming club. Training with his sighted classmates, Kimura learned new ways to enjoy swimming. He also has an important role in the swimming club: Kimura devises training menus and plans training camps and often arranges lodging when the club travels.
Independent and full of good humor, he lives alone and claims to be a bad cook.
“I cook by eye even though I’m blind,” he says, laughing out loud.
The easygoing Kimura loves conversations and making people laugh.
Eight of his friends from the swimming club saved their hard-earned money from part-time jobs to travel to London and cheer Kimura on. But Kimura's friends and parents all returned to Japan after the freestyle event in which Kimura failed to medal. Now that he’s won a medal, there are many supporters Kimura wants to show it off to.
“There are so many people I want to thank," he says. "I can’t possibly name them all.”
For Kimura, the Paralympics are much more than competing and trying for a place on the medals podium. His experiences in Beijing and London have helped open up the world to him and expand his horizons. He says he has come in contact with new words, new sounds, new smells and new tastes. And he’s loved every minute of it.
“I’d like to travel overseas some more," Kimura says. "Because the more friends I make overseas and the more countries I know, the more my world will expand.”
Beyond the pool, the London silver medalist dreams of becoming a schoolteacher. He has some concerns about not being able to see his future students’ facial expressions, but he isn't about to let that stop him from pursuing his dream.
“I want to teach people that there are many different people in the world,” Kimura says.
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