I remember watching a broadcast of the 2012 London Paralympic Games and hearing the announcer on Britain’s Channel 4 describe the athletes as “superhuman.” This characterization was perfect; it was also eye-opening, for I had never—embarrassingly enough—considered the competitors in those terms.
When I cover para-athletes, I am frequently overwhelmed by their superhuman feats. They have managed to overcome not only their own physical disabilities but also social stigma and have great inner strength, enabling them to work vigorously toward their goals. They are a mirror for society, reflecting the hidden abilities all humans possess.
One such athlete is Nagashima Osamu, Japan’s top para-badminton player and a member of the research and development team at Lixil—a maker of sanitary ware and other home products. Not only has he been Japan’s para-badminton champion 14 times, he is also a pioneering engineer, helping the company acquire patents for its Proguard technology that protect toilets against hard water stains and spots.
Nagashima’s stern gaze speaks volumes about the trials and tribulations he has overcome and the mental fortitude he has acquired along the way, now expressing itself as kindness toward others. One also detects a spark of curiosity of a man undertaking scientific research at the leading edge.
“You know,” he says, staring straight ahead, “it’s the accumulation of steady, honest effort—even if it appears mundane—that produces results. This is the same for both R&D and badminton.”
I had anticipated our interview would start off with a recap of the accident that almost ended his life. Instead, he began with a maxim that no doubt guided his search for answers to life’s big questions.
He was home in Saitama for the holidays as a second-year student at Chiba University when his car veered off and climbed up an embankment. He got out of the car and tried to lift it back to…