Reigning world champion Sarina Satomi has admitted she would be “spending most of my life at home” had she not fallen in love with Para-badminton.
The sport is set to make its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where Satomi is aiming to become its “first queen” as she eyes gold in single and doubles.
Her appearance in the Japanese capital next year will complete a remarkable journey having been involved in a car crash in 2016.
Satomi lost the ability to move her legs and spent nine months in hospital recuperating before starting to use a wheelchair.
A year after the accident, her father suggested she should go and check out a wheelchair badminton club in Chiba – and Satomi has not looked back since.
“When I started using a wheelchair, I confined myself to home, reluctant to ride on trains and buses because I didn’t want people to see me in a wheelchair,” said Satomi.
“Even if I did go out, I would come across many barriers, such as stepped surfaces and inaccessible heights, which made me give up.
“But Para-badminton changed my mindset.
“If I hadn’t encountered Para badminton, I would still be spending most of my life at home.
“At first, I was reluctant to play, not being able to see the fun part of the sport, but once I got serious, a whole new world opened up.
“I started having great fun. I’m profoundly grateful to my father, who kind of forced me to join the club.”
Satomi played in her first international competition in Thailand in July 2018 as an athlete certified by the Japan Para Badminton Federation.
Just over a year later, Satomi clinched gold at the 2019 World Championships with victory over Thailand’s Sujirat Pookkham in the WH1 singles final.
The 22-year-old is now ranked world number one in singles and doubles and is hoping to achieve an historic double at next year’s Paralympic Games.
“Para-badminton will be included in the Paralympic programme for the first time, so I definitely would like to become the first queen,” said Satomi who is expected to partner Yuma Yamazaki in the doubles.
“I’m exhilarated about the Games being hosted in Japan because it will help promote the sport to a wider audience.
“I also want to see people close to me get excited to see me play and win, so I will do my best.
“You never know how things might turn out.
“In fact, I’m surprised at myself for having come this far.
“It makes me think that whenever you have the opportunity to start something, you may as well take the plunge.”