When Japanese national team forward Megumi Takase was a little girl, she always used to kick a soccer ball around the yard with her oldest brother, Manafumi, until it got too dark to see.
The youngest of five children, soccer was a family affair as Megumi's other brother and two sisters often joined in.
But it was Manafumi who showed a real talent for the game early on, and he excelled on a boys' team when he was in elementary school in Kitami, Hokkaido.
When he was in fifth grade, Manafumi got into a horrible accident. His neck got caught in a rope at a playground facility, and his heart temporarily stopped beating. Manafumi suffered brain damage and has been in a coma for the past 16 years.
Ever since the accident, Megumi began playing soccer seriously for the sake of her brother as well as for herself. In first grade, she joined the same boys’ team that Manafumi was on. In junior high, she made the decision to join a girls’ club team in Kushiro, Hokkaido. Her father, Kenji, 56, had to drive her to practice three hours from their family home to the training ground on weekends. After graduating from junior high, Megumi left home and enrolled in soccer stronghold Hokkaido Bunkyo University Meisei High School in Sapporo and joined the school soccer club.
Now 21, Megumi, who plays for INAC Kobe Leonessa in the domestic Nadeshiko League, is fighting to keep her spot on the national team, which will be reduced from 21 players to 18 for the London Olympics. Megumi hopes to be one of the 18 and deliver the good news to her brother.
When asked which soccer player she aspires to be like, Megumi readily answers, "My big brother.”
Yuji Takasaki, who coached Megumi while she was attending high school, remembers a ritual she used to do before practice and matches. She would stop, put her arms together, and look down for a while.
“She was more grateful than anyone else about the fact that she was healthy and able to play her favorite sport,” Takasaki says.
Megumi’s dedication paid off. She joined the national team for the first time at age 19. But she didn’t get to show off her skills at last year’s Women’s World Cup, which Japan won for the first time. She only got to play in one match--from the 86th minute in a semifinal match against Sweden. Megumi did not see any playing time in the final match against the United States, which Japan won in a penalty shootout. As her family was rejoicing over Japan’s victory, Megumi told her mother, Mitoshi, 57, over the phone how disappointed she was that she “still had no good news to tell (her brother).”
Manafumi, 26, now rests in a bed in his parent’s home surrounded by uniforms signed by Nadeshiko Japan members and memorabilia related to the Women’s World Cup win. When Megumi's siblings return home, they have a custom of whispering into Manafumi’s ear about what they have accomplished.
“It was a tragic accident,” Kenji Takase says. “But Manafumi’s existence has become an emotional support for the family. What makes me happiest is that my children are working hard to achieve their respective goals.”
Of the five children in the Takase family, three continue to play soccer today. Megumi scored the winning goal against the United States at the Algarve Women’s Football Cup held in Portugal in March. She desperately wants to contribute to the Olympic team.
Megumi’s mother isn’t worried.
“Megumi will always be Megumi regardless of whether she is selected for the Olympics or not," she says. "She’ll be OK as long as she remembers how she felt when she first began playing soccer with her brother.”
(This article was written by Hiroki Mukai and Junya Yoshida.)
- « Prev
- Next »