Ahead of Japan hosting the Paralympics in 2020, On 5 March 2019, the ANZCCJ held a Sports for Business (SFB) meeting with special guest, Paralympic wheelchair runner, Jun Hiromichi. The SFB committee members and guest attendees were able to enjoy an inspiring talk and discussion with the sportsman. Jun participates in mainly category T53 wheelchair racing events and has been competing in Paralympic sporting for 28 years.
Jun’s story began at the age of 15, when he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him paralysed and unable to walk again. Despite being faced with new challenges, Jun said that he was able to maintain a positive mindset. He was lucky to have survived the accident and this, in Jun’s perspective, was another chance to live, and another opportunity to become a better person.
At the time of the accident, there was very limited information and representation of paraplegic sports in Japan. Most people believed that individuals with disabilities were not capable of doing anything, and this contributed greatly to the stigma and underrepresentation of the minority. However, Jun became aware of other paraplegic athletes at the age of 17 and was inspired to become a racer. Only one and a half years after the accident, in 1994 at the Boston Marathon, Jun competed in his first race. This made Jun the first professional wheelchair runner in Japan.
Jun gained a strong motivation to learn English and to become a top athlete after meeting the world champion at that time, Jim Knaub, from California. Jim went on to become Jun’s mentor and was able to share his experiences as how to improve his technique and seek sponsorships. This help, and Jun’s own determination, enabled him to compete in the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Summer Paralympics, winning a silver medal in Sydney and a bronze medal in Athens, and placing 7th in London – all in the 800m race. On top of this, Jun won bronze in 2002 at the World Championships in Lille, France.
Racing bike chairs are handmade, with the main frame and wheel cases being made of carbon fibre. The typical cost ranges between US$6000-8000, depending on the quality of the frame you choose. Often athletes and their families are left to self-fund their travel and equipment, with only a small number of companies willing to sponsor. The number of sponsors for paraplegic athletes is significantly lower than that of other athletes. With respect to sponsorship surrounding Paralympic athletes, Jun said that because Paralympians do not receive as much broadcasting coverage of its athletes, the advertising benefits and exposure to sponsors was limited, especially compared with major sports and tournaments like the Olympics. This is an issue in the industry, but often Corporate Social Responsibility-initiatives are the motive behind some companies who decide to sponsor Paralympic athletes. Jun’s main sponsor is Puma Japan, but he is also supported by Nippon Rent A Car, Mandom and OGK KABUTO.
In addition to his sporting achievements, Jun has won a number of awards within Japan -including the Oita Prefectural Medal and the Prime Minister’s Award for his participation in the local community. Jun holds various lectures, talk shows, coaching clinics, and is an active guest commentator on radio and TOS TV Oita with OBS Oita Broadcasting. Prior to this, Jun has served as a council committee member of the Japan Para Athletics Federation. He has also worked as the director of the Paralympians Association of Japan and executive director of Sports of Heart. It is brilliant to see such a great sportsman representing minority groups in Japan.
A copy of the minutes from the SFB meeting – for ANZCCJ members- can be found online here.