Misawa Air Base, JAPAN --
“When I was in the accident, I thought I lost everything.”
Those were the impactful words Shinji Negi, Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center project director, shared with the children he visited at the Lunney Youth Center here, June 28.
Negi visited Misawa City, Japan, to host the "Challenge for Tomorrow! School," an experience-based class of wheelchair basketball that was held at schools across the city as part of education programs related to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.
With the cooperation of the Paralympic Support Center, the city extended an invitation to the Misawa AB community, resulting in the program's first appearance on a U.S. military installation. The class would serve as a new opportunity for Negi to inspire and spread knowledge to military dependents about people living with disabilities.
Before becoming a mentor to children, Negi was a high school student who loved to play sports and stay active. Involved in judo, swimming and soccer, Negi had a full plate, not thinking of much outside of his daily routine.
This all changed his junior year of high school when the unthinkable happened.
“I was in a bad automobile accident my junior year of high school,” said Negi, “It damaged my spinal cord and bound me to a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
After losing the use of his legs, he could only see the negatives in life.
“I thought living with a wheelchair would be tough, sad and generally not good,” said Negi. “The hardest part was keeping a positive mindset and wondering if I could ever play sports again.”
Little did he know he would become a Paralympic basketball star.
Before that, he was introduced to wheelchair basketball through an acquaintance who eventually became a teammate.
“Discovering wheelchair basketball let me realize I could shine again,” said Negi.
Negi became the captain of the Japan Men’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team at the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, but now has turned his talent into a life lesson for children.
“I now teach paraplegic basketball to children,” said Negi. “I want them to understand disabilities and the differences between disabled people and others.”
Visiting more than 2,500 schools and teaching close to 800,000 children on paraplegic basketball, Negi didn’t think it could get any better.
That was until he partnered with the Paralympic Support Center, established in June 2015, which has given him numerous opportunities to visit children around the world, including those at Misawa AB.
“I couldn't make it to Misawa Air Base by myself,” said Negi. “My team has allowed me to visit and play basketball with the kids at the youth center.”
Negi was able to teach more than 50 children the importance of supporting Paralympic sports, as well as how far a little cheering can go.
“When the audience cheers, it motivates us to improve our skills,” said Negi. “The kids here at the youth center played basketball with us and cheered along their friends – ultimately helping everyone improve their playing.”
Although being in a wheelchair has not been an easy feat for Negi, he attributes his success and global friendships to basketball and the Paralympic community.
“Before the accident, I never thought of how big the world truly is,” said Negi. “I often wonder what my life would be like if I'd never been injured or started basketball.”
He said he never thought he would be where he is today – but is grateful for all of the opportunities he has received, especially the one at Misawa.
“Today at Misawa Air Base, I made new friends,” said Negi. “Once it came time to leave, I felt I'd known them for a long time and hope I’ve been able to show the children they can pursue their hopes and dreams like I have.”