Professional wheelchair racer Tomoya Ito said he will call it quits after this summer's London Paralympics--but he wants to make history first.
The 48-year-old, who won gold medals in the 400-meter and 800-meter races at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, announced his retirement due to deteriorating health earlier this month.
The Suzuka native is expected to earn a berth for the London Games, where he will be trying for an unprecedented four gold medals in the 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter races.
“Winning these races (would be) my way of showing my gratitude to all the people who have supported me over the years,” Ito said.
Ito will be training at 10-day camps in Hokkaido in July and Nagano Prefecture in August. He also plans to train at Mizuho Athletic Stadium in Nagoya.
The Paralympian has special training concerns unique to his condition.
“I drop as much muscle as I can because having bulky muscles makes it difficult for me to rotate my arms,” he said.
He also said he’ll avoid taking his medication for multiple sclerosis because he wants to “avoid testing positive in doping tests.”
In fact, Ito said he has stopped receiving treatment and may “be stuck in the hospital” after the London Games.
Ito was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 34. He lost sight in his left eye and became paralyzed from the waist down. In a book he recently published titled “Kizuna--Inochi wo Kagayakaserutame” (Bonds--To Make the Most of Life), Ito describes his condition as, “The brain and central nervous system get as stiff as a rock, and I begin to lose motor skills and my sense of touch because of stiffened nerves.”
Despite his condition, Ito typed out his book in just four months.
He also writes about the surprises and inspiration he’s experienced throughout his athletic career.
One of those episodes involves an incident at the 1,500-meter race at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Soon after the race began, Ito got into a heated competition with another wheelchair racer and fell, knocking over the defending Paralympic champion who was competing in only that event.
“When I thought about what he must have sacrificed and what kind of training he must have endured for the past four years, my mind went blank," Ito recalled. "I dragged myself over to him and apologized as soon as I could. I was shaken and inspired by his response. He said, 'Let’s meet again in Beijing four years from now.' And he said that with a big smile on his face.”
In his book, Ito wrote, “I gained something incredibly significant from that one comment.”
Asked about his last Paralympic participation in London, Ito says, “I will race with a feeling of gratitude toward everyone--my family first and foremost, the sponsors who have supported me, fans who cheered me on and rivals who pushed me to do my best.”
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