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One Year Out From Paralympic Games, Wheelchair Rugby Star Chuck Aoki Writes Open Letter To Future Self

By Chuck Aoki | Aug. 24, 2020, 12:01 a.m. (ET)

Chuck Aoki poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 shoot on Nov. 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif. 

 

Dear 2021 Chuck, 

I’m writing this letter to you on what should have been an incredible day.

Today was supposed to be the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, a spectacular event that brings the world together to celebrate and honor the amazing Paralympians from every corner of the globe. It is the sort of event that gives me nervous excitement and energy just thinking about it, and my heart starts racing, as I recall the marvelous Opening Ceremony from London 2012 and Rio 2016. 

Marching into the Paralympic stadium, surrounded by my fellow Team USA athletes and Paralympians from across the world, and feeling the energy pulse through the stadium is the sort of experience one does not soon forget. These moments at the Opening Ceremony are what drive home the idea that as Paralympic athletes, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It is a truly magnificent experience, and the culmination of years of unseen hard work by so many. 

But I am not in Tokyo today. 

Instead, I am sitting at my desk, writing this to you, to remember what this unprecedented and bizarre year was like. 

It began normal enough, with training camps and traveling, airplane flights and basketball games. But by March, everything changed. There was no such thing as “normal” anymore. Our world was in a pandemic, one that we did not understand, and seemed unstoppable at every moment. The idea of going to a gym to workout seemed impossible, much less traveling overseas for the Paralympics. The feeling of hopelessness was pervasive. Everything was spinning out of control. 

In the face of this chaos, glimmers of hope began to emerge. 

It all began with discovering small, sometimes tiny, things we could all control in our lives. Washing our hands. Wearing a mask. These small actions helped bring a small sense of stability into our lives and helped me to refocus on the goal that had been delayed, but would not be denied. 

 

These small actions helped bring a small sense of stability into our lives and helped me to refocus on the goal that had been delayed, but would not be denied.

Training for the Paralympics wasn’t easy in the pandemic, but we found ways to adapt and overcome. Sprints outside in the summer heat. Dip sets on chairs, benches, or ottomans. Virtual meetings with our team nearly every week, to stay close, even as we are forced apart. 

Hopelessness turned into action. 

I hope this letter finds you sitting in a dorm room in Tokyo next year, preparing for the Games to begin. I believe in the world to beat this pandemic. 

I also hope that you have not forgotten what this year has taught you, however. Slow down and enjoy every moment on the road to Tokyo. The pandemic has forced you to sit still, something you’re not used to. This stillness has allowed time for reflection, however, something we could all use more of in our lives. So always embrace the moment you’re in and enjoy the simplicity of even the most mundane activities as you work towards your goals. They are all important. They all make a difference. 

Finally, never forget the perseverance that we saw during this year from so many across the world. Let the spirit and energy of all those who worked tirelessly to battle the pandemic, keep food on the table, and strive for social justice in our country, let their power help keep you moving forward. 

Every time the Paralympics and Olympics come around, we always hear and discuss how athletes inspire their nation. This time, however, we as athletes have a nation inspiring us. 

Team USA has always been about more than just the athletes, and we have now seen just how strong we can all be in the face of immense challenges. This spirit is what I hope is always remembered as the days and months go by. 

Tokyo 2021 will be a Games unlike any other. They will be a Games in which every American’s passion, perseverance, and hope will be behind every athlete who competes for the USA. Remember this whenever things get difficult at the Games, and I know we will overcome our difficulties and succeed. 

You’ve got this.   

Related Athletes

head shot

Chuck Aoki

Wheelchair Rugby