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.
What about boccia that attracts him, and how he became involved in volunteering
––– Mr. Hirakawa, you’re an active boccia player. When did you start playing the sport?
––– What about boccia that attracts you?
Boccia didn’t receive much attention until the Japan national team won the silver medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympics to help make the sport widely known.
Boccia is largely seen as a Para sport, but whether you have an impairment or not, anyone can play that if there are balls and a facility. That is the attractiveness of boccia.
The course of the game could change dramatically by just one throw, so tactics with opponents is important. You of course need a good control when throwing balls, but there are also instances where you need power to strike your opponent’s balls away. The more I play boccia, the more I realize how deep the sport is.
––– Any match that made a lasting impression on you?
That must be the final match of the 16th Chiba Boccia Championships held in 2011, where I faced Mr. Takayuki Hirose, the silver medalist at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, for the first time.
Until reaching the final match, Mr. Hirose was crushing his opponent one after another, beating them by 10 to 20 points. When he faced me at the final match, however, the scores did not differ as much. Getting even one point from Mr. Hirose is quite a struggle, but I somehow managed to do that.
Although many of the spectators had also thought it impossible to grab a point from Mr. Hirose, I did score and they erupted in cheers, which surprised me. I still vividly remember how I felt at the moment.
––– What is your goal as a boccia athlete?
My biggest goal is to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a member of the Japan national team!
––– I heard that you actively take part in volunteer activities. What made you decide to start volunteering?
My first volunteer activity was a clean-up activity that took place around the station during daytime on Sunday.
I didn’t talk to the organizers in advance or anything. I went to where the volunteer activity was taking place and asked directly, “I have an impairment, but would I be able to participate?” They let me join right away, and I continued taking part in the activity for four or five times afterward.
––– You joined the activity without making a prior arrangement, right?
I didn’t make any prior arrangement and went to where the volunteer activity was taking place with my caregiver. I asked, “Excuse me. Would it be all right if I join the clean-up activity?” The organizers simply said yes, and they easily let me into their group.
––– Could you please tell me the details of your volunteer activity?
I kept picking up empty cans and cigarette buds from the streets around the station, like other participants were doing.
I use a wheelchair, however, so I can’t pick up garbage with tongs. So, I asked people around me to pick up the garbage I found and put them in my garbage bag.
––– How did you feel after participating in the volunteer activity?
Most of the participants were university students, and I was worried what they would think if I suddenly appeared in a wheelchair. But I could just be myself working with them and that was memorable to me.
––– I get the impression that you are very active, joining volunteer activities without making prior arrangements and so on. What motivates you?
To be honest, I didn’t have any strong feelings, such as “I want to do this!” Rather, I thought, “Would I be able to do this?” and decided to give it a go.
I also thought that I want to interact with more people through these activities.
Boccia was originally devised in Europe for people with severe cerebral palsy or people with severe functional impairment of the limbs of the same degree. It is an official Paralympic sport.
One side gets six red balls, while the other gets six blue balls. Players throw or roll these balls toward a white target ball known as the “jack ball,” and see which side can get their balls closer to the jack.
If a player cannot throw due to an impairment, he or she can kick balls, or use an equipment known as the ramp to roll balls.