A Japanese former elite athlete enthralled thousands with a brief but breathtaking performance at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympics – and playing violin isn’t even her day job.
Manami Ito, who is also a qualified nurse, took to the stage at the Paralympics to show off her incredible skill of playing the violin with her specially designed prosthetic arm.
The 36-year-old became a Paralympic swimmer after losing her right arm in a motorbike accident eight years ago.
‘There were always people who told me: “No, you can’t do it. It’s impossible,”‘ she says.
‘Every time I faced that kind of wall, I thought to myself: “They are saying that because no one has done it before. So I will do it.”‘
But that wasn’t always the way Ito felt, particularly in the dark days after her accident at the age of 20.
‘I thought I would confine myself at home for the rest of my life,’ she admits.
‘I didn’t want my friends or neighbours to see my body, I didn’t want them to know what happened to me.’
It was the sight of her parents ‘in real pain’ at her state that made her rethink her stance.
‘I thought, I cannot make them smile if I don’t smile myself,’ she adds.
Ito had been encouraged by her mother to play the violin when she was a child, and after her accident she decided to give it another try.
At first, she tried to play by taping the bow to her foot. But it took years before she was able to receive a special prosthetic arm and master the fluid tones she now produces.
‘I want to show to the world that just because no one else has done it, it doesn’t mean I can’t do it,’ she says.
In 2007, she became the first qualified nurse in Japan using a prosthetic arm and took a posting in the western city of Kobe, choosing to move far from her family home in order to live independently.
It was there she rediscovered another childhood passion – swimming.
She began training after work for parasports competitions before going on to swim at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008 and London 2012, reaching the finals three times under her maiden name Nomura.
Ito quit nursing in 2015 after getting married, and is now mostly focused on raising her daughters, aged two and five, though she continues to give talks about her life.
‘When my daughter gets older, there will be a day when her friends tell her that her mum looks strange,’ Ito says.
‘I want to hear her saying this is her mother, and that what is normal can be different for each person and each family.’
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