Ukrainian Para Triathletes join Japanese National team training camp

by courtney.akrigg@triathlon.org on 05 Mar, 2024 03:36 • Español
Ukrainian Para Triathletes join Japanese National team training camp

Ukrainian Para Triathletes Embrace ‘Stronger Together’ Spirit in Joint Training Camp with Japanese National Team in Okinawa

The Ukrainian Para triathlon team has joined the Japanese national team for a training camp in Okinawa, Japan, from February 25 to March 5. Faced with challenges in training due to the current situation in Ukraine, the athletes sought a training environment in Japan’s warm and welcoming atmosphere to prepare for upcoming competitions.

“I’m very pleased to be here because people are so kind and are building good relationships with us,” expressed Alisa Korpakchy, one of the Ukrainian Para triathletes. “It’s not usual for us these days, so it’s very pleasant for us.”

Amidst the turmoil back home, finding a stable training environment in Ukraine has not been easy. Korpakchy shared, “It was difficult to adjust mentally at the beginning, and then physically, it was challenging to rest after training. I felt empty in the end under the circumstances. When you are at home, we know safety isn’t guaranteed, but it’s easier to maintain your mental health with people like your family or friends. When you are abroad for a training camp or competition, you are always checking the news, and you are nervous about your people, and it’s very emotionally tough.”

This joint training camp was made possible through the initiative of ‘Sport For Tomorrow,’ a program supported by the Japanese government to promote international cooperation and development through sports. The program aims to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and foster global exchange and cooperation through sports, building on the legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. In this project, the Japan Sports Agency provides necessary support to dedicated National Federations (NFs) working to establish training environments in Japan for overseas athletes unable to secure sufficient training environments in their own countries due to domestic situations such as conflicts.

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The addition of the Ukrainian team, including two Paralympians Alisa Korpakchy (PTS5) and Vita Oleksiuk (PTVI2), a guide Nataliia Matsupko, and a coach Roman Korol, to the squad also had a positive impact on the Japanese national team, including Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games silver medalist Hideki Uda (PTS4) and bronze medalist Satoru Yoneoka (PTVI1).

Satoru Yoneoka said, “I understand they usually train under tough training environments. Compared to them, we are feeling how blessed we are in such a fulfilling training environment. I’m inspired by how they train single-mindedly.”

His teammate Hideki Uda, added, “I respect only to see that they’re training in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. Just seeing athletes from different countries swimming and running next to us gives inspiration and motivation. I really appreciate they joined, and it’s a great opportunity for us.”

During their stay in Okinawa, the Ukrainian athletes embraced the opportunity to connect with the local community by visiting a nearby public school, Motobu Elementary School, alongside their Japanese Para triathletes. Together, they engaged with 160 students, offering insights into para triathlon and sharing their experiences in the sport. The visit provided a unique chance for the students to delve into the world of para sports and gain an understanding of the challenges faced by athletes from diverse backgrounds. Welcoming both their national team athletes and those from Ukraine, the children listened attentively to their stories and eagerly embraced the excitement of Paralympic sports.

“It was great to learn that there’s a sport that everyone, including people with disabilities, can enjoy and compete in,” remarked one of the school children after the event, underscoring the profound impact of the cultural exchange.

A lot of students tried to communicate directly with the foreign national team members, employing English language, hand gestures, and even AI translation tools. Some had prepared message boards with warm greetings such as “Welcome to Motobu Elementary School.”

Reflecting on her experience, a local student shared, “Despite speaking different languages, we found ways to communicate through gestures, expressing our emotions, and utilizing automatic translation. I am grateful that they visited us, especially given the current situation in their country.”

“I felt their smiles and kindness,” shared Vita Oleksiuk, a blind triathlete. “It’s a strange feeling, considering Japan is so far from Ukraine, but receiving such immense support makes me feel much closer.” She added that the local children seemed to share a similar sentiment, while Alisa Korpakchy couldn’t hold back tears upon seeing the message board written in Ukrainian.

With their sights set on upcoming races in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Devonport (AUS), the Ukrainian Para triathletes are focused on securing their spots for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 this summer. Despite the challenges they face, they remain determined to excel on the international stage and inspire others through their resilience and dedication.

“I feel like this is a significant birthday present for me,” remarked Vita Oleksiuk, who celebrated her 29th birthday on March 1 in Okinawa. “This camp holds a special place in my heart.”

Words by Tatsuo Ogura, Tokyo 2020 Press manager / currently related with JTU.

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