Mr. Takahiro Hirakawa
A wheelchair user born with cerebral palsy, Mr. Hirakawa met boccia and won the silver medal at the 2011 Chiba Boccia Championships. At present, he continues to train to participate in various tournaments. He also spends his time actively getting involved in volunteer activities – including the Tokyo Marathon in which he took part for two consecutive years.
Volunteering at the Tokyo Marathon
––– How did you get involved as a volunteer at the Tokyo Marathon?
I happened to come across an article on Facebook that said volunteers were wanted for the Tokyo Marathon. It wasn’t specifically calling for impaired volunteers, but I rang up the recruitment office and asked, “Would an impaired person be able to volunteer?” That was how I got involved.
I often saw notices that ask impaired runners to participate, but not impaired volunteers. That was why I decided to go ahead and give a call.
––– So, it’s a result of you actively trying to get involved.
If I didn’t call then, people probably wouldn’t have seen someone in a wheelchair working as a volunteer.
The first time I took part as a volunteer, the Tokyo Marathon was celebrating its 10th anniversary. I attended the reception party held after the event and talked with the head of the volunteer recruitment office , who was thrilled and said to me, “Please participate next year too!” That’s how I got to volunteer this year as well.
By volunteering at the Tokyo Marathon for two years straight, a lot of people came to recognize me. As for myself, I learned what volunteers should do the first time I took part in the event and was thus able to give suggestions the following year. The organizers made sure I could carry out volunteer activities in a wheelchair, so I remember feeling very comfortable during the event.
As I expected, once you experience something, things go smoothly the second year.
––– Would you like to continue volunteering the next year and beyond?
If it does not coincide with a boccia tournament. (laughs)
––– Is there anything you particularly remember from your volunteering experience at the Tokyo Marathon?
I was stationed around Ginza and Hibiya during this year’s Tokyo Marathon event and was cleaning up the area after all the runners had passed when I was asked to go and help out at another location. I was running through one of Ginza’s main streets in an electric wheelchair with other volunteers when I heard spectators along the roadside cheer for me and say, “Keep it up!” That was a funny experience.
I was like, I’m not a runner but I’m being cheered for! (laughs)
––– How did you help out at this year’s Tokyo Marathon?
The volunteer recruitment office kindly considered my situation and asked me to do something that does not involve moving around; thus, I was initially stationed around Ginza and was holding a sign indicating where the bathroom was.
Afterward when I went to help out at another location, I took part in cheering for the runners as it was close to the finish area.
I cheered for them, with a thought of passing along the cheers I received while relocating from where I originally was stationed to the finish area.
There are runners who take part in the Tokyo Marathon for fun. I’ve had instances where runners who participated from abroad took the time to walk up to me before reaching the finish line – and asked me to take pictures with them.
I couldn’t understand their words, but I sensed what they were trying to say from their camera and took pictures with them.
––– As a volunteer, you’ll get to interact with runners as well.
Yes. Those were fun moments.
I guess it’s unusual for runners to see a volunteer in a wheelchair .
I also felt happy when I cheered for the runners, and many of them responded by saying, “Thank you!”
––– Your experience working as a Tokyo Marathon volunteer was featured in a newspaper article. Did that have any impact on you?
That had a huge impact!
I received many LINE messages and email from friends who saw the news article. There were also instances where I was going somewhere in a wheelchair, and someone I didn’t know at all came up and talked to me.
––– Do you see any issues in continuing your volunteer activities?
When I use trains to get to where I do volunteer activities, there are times when the closest stations are not wheelchair accessible. I’d love to see those places become more accessible in a wheelchair.
I’d also be grateful if the event organizer more actively recruits impaired volunteers.
––– What’s your goal for the Tokyo 2020 Games?
My number one goal is to compete in the Paralympics as a member of the Japan national boccia team!
If, however, that proved to be difficult, I’d like to participate as a volunteer – after all, the Olympics and Paralympics will be taking place in Tokyo.
––– Is there anything you’d like to tell people with impairment, who are thinking of taking part in volunteer activities?
The types of impairment vary among individuals, but you could help in one way or another, within the scope of your capabilities. For example, even if you could not move your body, you might be able to cheer using your voice; even if you could not talk, you might be able to write a message on a board and hold it. There are various ways to cheer for the runners.
You can find a lot of information on volunteer opportunities on the Internet. If you’re hesitant to participate alone, bring along a friend – all you need is a small push and a bit of courage. If you’re interested in volunteering, I believe it’s important to first get involved, even if it’s something small.