An athlete planning to compete in the 2012 London Paralympic Games has published a calendar featuring her posing seminude with her prosthetic leg to help finance her trip and stay in Britain.
“To garner support, I did not mind risking everything,” said 26-year-old Maya Nakanishi, who plans to enter the 100- and 200-meter sprint and broad jump events.
Nakanishi, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, said her bold step was not without controversy. She said some people have criticized her for “humiliating disabled people” by baring her disability.
But Nakanishi said she also hopes her calendar will persuade people with disabilities not to be afraid to tackle life head-on.
“I want to convey the message that (a prosthetic limb) is something beautiful, not something you should be embarrassed at being seen with,” said Nakanishi, whose prosthetic legs are made of red fabric and fabric with a rose print.
An aspiring tennis player, Nakanishi was 21 when her right leg below the knee was severed in a workplace accident at a company in Oita Prefecture that paints steel frames. She was released from the hospital about six months after she was injured.
Although she felt people around her were thinking that her career as an athlete was over, she began training with an artificial leg. She was soon able to run and exercise and qualified for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
In Beijing, she finished sixth in the 100-meter sprint and fourth in the 200-meter event.
After Beijing, she decided to push herself to try and become one of the best in the world.
“You cannot remain an active athlete forever,” she said. “I did not want to leave something to be regretted later.”
In 2009, Nakanishi was accepted into a program where she was able to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center near San Diego.
Her performance improved markedly after receiving training from Al Joyner, gold medalist in the triple-jump competition at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Nakanishi soon set Japanese records in the 100 meters, 200 meters and broad jump.
But with little financial assistance available for disabled athletes from the Japanese government, financing her training in the United States was a constant struggle.
Not only did Nakanishi have to worry about daily living expenses and fees for use of the facility and for a trainer, she also will need at least two prosthetic limbs for the competition. And at about 1.2 million yen ($14,500) a piece, they don't come cheap. At times she said she was so low on funds that she had to live in her car.
According to the Japan Association of Athletics Federations for the Disabled, even the nation's top Paralympians receive limited financial assistance from the government.
They are often forced to pay their expenses to an international competition unlike their able-bodied counterparts.
Most disabled athletes try to finance their athletic activities by working at companies, which are required by law to hire a certain number of employees with disabilities.
Nakanishi said she hopes that proceeds from sales of her calendar will enable her to ease her financial burdens.
She also said that publishing a seminude calendar is also meant to bring more attention to the financial adversity fellow Paralympic athletes are facing.
“No matter how much disdain and bashing I will receive for the calendar, I want to pave the way for younger athletes to shine,” she said.
Takao Ochi, the photographer who shot Nakanishi's calendar, said that Nakanishi is an individual who has made a breakthrough despite hardship.
“I believe the photos captured her resolve to stand up and meet a challenge head-on,” he said.
The calendar is priced at 1,200 yen, covering 14 months from March. Photographs are in color and black and white.
A limited 2,000 copies are available. Visit Nakanishi's website at (ameblo.jp/n-maya/).
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