Prior to my first time in Japan . . .
Our van pulls up to the front of the school. I’m with other four dignitaries and an interpreter.
I’m visiting the school in Sendai, Japan, as a representative of Riverside California, Sendai’s sister city.
I see two dozen eight-foot long paper kites shaped like koi fish strung across the field to welcome me.
My interpreter explains that the koi fish symbolize pushing through in the face of adversity.
I love that.
The director leads us to an outdoor physical education class, and I see forty-five uniformed students doing stretches and exercising all in unison.
Then the students line up and take off for a run.
I notice one student on the track who’s walking instead of running. His name is Yuki. Yuki is breathing very heavily, almost gasping for air, and looking up at the sky with this “God take me now” expression on his face.
By now everyone else has completed their five laps, but Yuki still has two more to run. The students, teachers, and director are cheering him on yelling ganbatte, ganbatte, ganbatte, which means, Do your best. It’s a great word that I heard during every sporting event I attended in Japan.
Now Yuki is really huffing and puffing. I run over to him.
When I get close to him I see that he is breathing way too hard through his mouth.
I think, my God, he’s going to pass out.
He doesn’t speak a word of English. I smile and say hello, touch his shoulder and say, “Look at me.” He does. I breathe through my nose. Then I demonstrate breathing out through my mouth. I do this until he imitates me, calms down, and starts breathing correctly.
He picks up his pace and settles into a very slow jog. We jog the last two laps together.
At the finish line he’s crying. I’m crying. Many of the students, teachers and the dignitaries are crying too. Everyone is clapping and taking pictures of Yuki.
I want to celebrate his success by giving him something.
Giving gifts is a big part of the culture in Japan but I don’t have anything to offer. Then I look over at my translator, and even though I don’t say a word she senses what I want and pulls the City of Riverside lapel pin from her shirt, and hands it to me.
I pin it on Yuki’s shirt and say, Arrigato, thank you. Good job!’ His Physical Education teacher says, “Thank you” to me and tells me Yuki will never forget that day. I tell her that I will never forget this day.
I pin it on Yuki’s shirt and say, arrigato, thank you. Good job! His physical education teacher says, “Thank you” to me and tells me Yuki will never forget that day. I tell her that I will never forget this day.
On this day Yuki became a champion.
His victory was celebrated with cheers and tears as he pushed through in the face of adversity
That day in Sendai, Japan, Yuki showed me that people all over the world would benefit from seeing how we in the club encourage students by celebrating everyone’s personal success.