Mexican Paralympic hopefuls persevere amid pandemic Mexican Paralympic hopefuls persevere amid pandemic
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Mexican Paralympic hopefuls persevere amid pandemic

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    When the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were officially pushed back for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic, it completely disrupted the training regimens and preparation plans for athletes around the world. Now, as some countries reopen facilities more quickly than others, organizers are grappling with how to ensure fair competition.

    Despite the uncertainty, a pair of Mexican Paralympians are keeping their sights firmly set on next summer's Games.

    Athletes on edge

    With over 443,000 cases, Mexico has been one of the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus. Its death toll exceeds 48,000, the third-highest in the world following the US and Brazil.

    The Mexican government says the actual number of cases is probably far higher than the official total.

    Amid this grim reality, the country's para table tennis team has been trying to continue preparing for next year's Games. With the national Olympic and Paralympic training centers closed for the past five months, they have been making do with 30-minute online training sessions every weekday.

    For first-time Paralympian Victor Reyes, bringing a medal back to Mexico has been a lifelong dream.

    Victor Reyez Doing resistance training
    Victor Reyes competes in his wheelchair.

    But stay-at-home measures mean he doesn't have access to a table, training equipment or in-person coaching. He has been trying to stay sharp with resistance training and by watching videos of other players.

    He admits he is feeling stressed, and that he sometimes wonders if all the time and money he spent has been a waste.

    "The return of normal training here is going to be delayed compared to other countries," he says. "I'm very worried about what's happening in Mexico."

    For teammate Claudia Perez, the postponement raises another problem. She suffers from a progressive rheumatic condition and has no idea whether she will be able to maintain her strength for next year.

    She says she's trying to stay ready by rallying against a wall, running inside, and maintaining a healthy diet. But she says stress is unavoidable, and she's worried her skills are slipping because she's unable to practice at a table. But she is trying to stay upbeat.

    Claudia Perez talking online or practicing
    Claudia Perez says competing in Tokyo will be a dream come true.

    "When I start feeling sad and think that the pain might get worse, I always try to focus on the positive," she says.

    Japanese volunteer coach

    For retired middle school teacher Ito Yushin, who coached Reyes and Perez for over a year as a Japanese government-sponsored volunteer, it is difficult to hear what his athletes are going through after all their hard work.

    Ito with Perez
    Ito Yushin served as a volunteer coach for Team Mexico. He has nearly 40 years of experience coaching table tennis.

    Ito says he saw firsthand the physical, economic, and psychological barriers that they faced as they competed to earn places at the Games.

    Ito on Skype
    Ito says he is inspired by the bravery of the Mexican athletes who have managed to continue training under such brutal conditions.

    "It breaks my heart that I'm unable to help them right now," he says. "I want to bring them equipment. I know how hard they've worked for Tokyo."

    Keeping the faith

    For Reyes and Perez, Ito's encouragement is helping them stay positive.

    "I remember we hugged each other and almost cried when I was chosen as a representative for the country in 2019," Reyes says. "I want to see him in Tokyo because he is the person who helped me come this far."

    He says he can't help feeling powerless in his current situation, but he will still keep working hard.

    Reyes and Perez say they are focusing on whatever training they can do at home, instead of worrying about the pandemic.
    Watch video: 03:35

    "I want Ito to see how my overall game, especially my forehand, has improved," Perez says. "I want him to see me playing my best in Tokyo."

    The one-year postponement has been a huge setback for these athletes who were on the cusp of achieving their lifelong dreams. But they are holding out hope that continued hard work and determination may yet give them the chance to represent their country in Tokyo.

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