Mizuho Fujimoto: Japan’s young hopeful aims for Paralympic qualification

As Japan embark on their campaign for Paralympic Games qualification, the team has reason to be optimistic about its future, as they have a core of veterans that could guide their new, young talents.

Among them is Mizuho Fujimoto, a 19-year-old university student from Shimizu Ward, Shizuoka City.

Fujimoto cherishes the hope that competing in sitting volleyball gave her after overcoming osteosarcoma and now vows to return the favour to help her team clinch the final Paralympic spot in women’s sitting volleyball.

In an interview with SBS TV’s weekly sport programme Minasport, Fujimoto was featured in ‘Oath to Paris from Shizuoka’, a segment that explores stories of Shizuoka Prefecture’s Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls.

The segment starts with an introduction on Mizuho Fujimoto, a sitting volleyball player from Shizuoka attracting attention, as she prepares for the Final Paralympic Qualification Tournament in China this April. The next part is a brief introduction on sitting volleyball’s game characteristics.

Fujimoto last saw action at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou, China, where she helped her team win the bronze medal.

“There were very few opportunities to play sitting volleyball in the prefecture, so I would like to do more activities to spread the word,” said the first-year university student of Mukogawa Women’s University in Hyogo.

The story delved deeper into her disability and how it freed her into experiencing a normal life and getting a reverent representation in sport.

Fujimoto’s disability is not very obvious from the outside. Her friend recounted, “at first I thought it was an injury, not a disability.”

When Fujimoto was in her second year of junior high school, she developed osteosarcoma in her right femur that took 16 hours of surgery to remove the lesion. She was treated with anti-cancer drugs and underwent seven surgeries, spanning a year of staying in the hospital.

She overcame long-term rehabilitation and is now able to walk, but still unable to run, jump or perform other movements that put weight on her legs.

Fujimoto currently plays with a sitting volleyball team in Osaka, where she often practices with members of the Japan men’s national team.

And now, she is with the women’s national team as the team’s serving specialist. She works hard on refining her serve, which includes independent training for five days a week at most – spending her days full of sitting volleyball.

“I really like volleyball and I will never forget the look on my face when I am playing it. I contacted the captain of the Japan national team on SNS and went to Himeji to watch them play. I was not interested in volleyball that is played while sitting, that’s what I said in the beginning, but after I tried it once, I was frustrated that I wanted to play more,” she recalled with a big laugh.

“When I realised that I looked normal to everyone and that I could do what I wanted. I felt so happy. There were times when I was worried, but now I feel free. Just as sitting volleyball gave me hope, I think it’s my turn to give back,” she said before revealing her main goal for the final Paralympic qualification.

“In order to pass the final qualifying rounds for the Paris Paralympic Games, I would like to work hard to become in a team that can defeat stronger teams from all over the world. Even if I don’t have the timing to compete, I will do my best both on and off the court. I would like to do my best to cheer for the team.”

Editor’s note: Parts of this article were translated from an article published earlier in SBS TV Mina Sports

Photo: ParaVolley Asia Oceania