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Shooting golden arrows

    NHK World
    Producer
    Chika Shigesada's dream is to sing the Japanese national anthem from the top of the Paralympic podium while holding a gold medal. The para-archery athlete recently qualified to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

    Archery is seen as a competition against yourself. It's often described as a psychological combat sport.

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    Shigesada practices alone. Everyday, she shoots an average of 200 arrows at a target 70 meters away in her hometown of Kita-Kyushu in southwestern Japan.

    She sets her daily practice routine herself and pulls her own arrows out of the target. She shoots and pulls, shoots and pulls, quietly throughout the day.

    The archery competition is outdoors. That means the natural environment can affect the outcome. Shigesada is facing not only the world's top athletes, but is also up against nature itself.

    The venue for para-archery at the Tokyo Games is close to the sea, so the athletes may have to deal with poor weather conditions. Strong winds from the sea can blow an arrow off course.

    Shigesada has exchanged her usual arrows for heavier ones to reduce the weather's impact. And her bowstring is tightened to help the heavier arrows reach the target.

    Shigesada was infected with a virus when she was 13.
    The infection spread to her spinal cord, causing the inflammation that has confined her to a wheelchair.

    Before trying her hand at para-archery, she competed in wheelchair tennis for over 10 years, at one point ranking 6th in Japan. She retired from tennis to make room for younger players.

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    Shigesada had her first experience with archery in 2015. She became fascinated with the sport after seeing Japanese para-athletes at the Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro. That's when she started working to become a para-archery athlete.

    She made strong advances in next to no time, thanks to her years of experience in wheelchair tennis.
    She surprised everybody by winning the national championship in just two years.
    Hiroki Suetake, a former member of the Japan national team has been Shigesada's personal coach since April.

    He puts priority on mental attitude training.
    Shigesada's once solitary practice is now punctuated with words of encouragement.
    Suetake talks to her continuously, trying to minimize the number of mistakes she makes. But he also reassures her.

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    Shigesada continues to set new personal bests since Suetake started coaching her. At the beginning of August, she was 13th in the world ranking. At the beginning of September, she had risen to 10th place.

    In July, top athletes from around the world gathered at the official venues in Tokyo to take part in trial events for the Olympics and Paralympics.

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    The para-archery trial was held in strong winds and heavy rain. But Shigesada still scored close to her best.

    "I still have one more year to go," she said. "I promise I will continue to improve."