Harumi Junior High School meet with Australian Paralympic Athlete

Harumi Junior High School meet with Australian Paralympic Athlete

On 17 December, Harumi Junior High school students had the opportunity to participate in Paralympics Australia’s ENGAGE program, a school engagement initiative designed for Japanese school students to meet with the Australian Paralympic team and athletes. Chuo-ward in Tokyo has a sister city relationship with Sutherland Shire in Sydney which led to the signing of the agreement between Paralympics Australia and Chuo to provide a space for the Paralympics team during the Tokyo 2020 Games. Chuo ward is also an AUS+RALLY Friends of Australia city.

Paralympics Australia had planned to visit the school in person for the engagement program but due to the Games postponement and the COVID pandemic, the engagement was conducted online. This program is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australia-Japan Foundation.

Following the school engagement with Kobe city earlier in December, the participating athlete for the Chuo ward engagement was table tennis Paralympian, Melissa Tapper. Melissa represented Australia not only in the 2016 Rio Paralympics but also the Olympic games. She became the first Australian to compete at a Paralympic and Olympic Games in the same year. Melissa is now training for her next big stage at the Tokyo Paralympics next year.

Melissa started off telling the students about having a disability in her right arm from birth, and how her movement is limited. From when she was a child, she had to teach herself how to tie her shoelaces, tie her hair, to skip rope, and cut up her dinner. With practice and tenacity, she became able to do things ‘one-handed’ or left-handed for things that generally require both hands.

“I will show up everyday with a smile and I’ll try and try again until the problem is solved. I refuse to stop moving forward. The fact that we have the opportunity everytime something difficult is presented to us is to choose how we respond to it. Each person has the opportunity to choose how we respond when difficulties present their selves”

Melissa also spoke about her ambitions for a gold medal at the Games and what the Australian team means to her.

“I have an incredible team around me that push me out of my comfort zone and challenge me everyday and support me in every way. When you have the right people around you this can change everything.”

When asked by a student what her favourite Japanese food was, Melissa smiled and answered “Okonomiyaki (A Japanese savoury pancake)”.

At the end of the session, the students all applauded wished her success at next year’s Paralympic games.