Monday, June 11, 2001
Arimori discoversMAYBE you saw it, if you got up early enough, to watch this morning's Honolulu Half Marathon.
peace in long run
Japanese Olympic star
headlines today's Honolulu
By Kalani Simpson
Maybe it'll shine through, on tonight's TV highlights of the race that Yuko Arimori headlined.
Maybe you'll see it then, and understand for yourself. It's a wondrous thing. The look of a woman who's no longer looking.
Arimori has won two Olympic marathon medals for Japan -- a silver in Barcelona, a bronze in Atlanta.
But that's not what gives her peace. That came a long time ago in a land across the sea when a little girl who was born with uneven legs had a teacher who believed in her.
Arimori was born with congenital dislocation of the foot joint, and as a youngster wore a cast. She couldn't run.
"But I always looking for what is my talent," said Arimori, whose first language is Japanese.
Even then, in intermediate school, she was looking. She had a brother -- a big brother -- and as brothers sometimes can be, he was perfect.
He could do anything. Everything she herself couldn't always live up to. She knew there was something out there for her. Even at this young age, she knew it, and she was looking.
Then her teacher told her that she can run.
She looked up to this teacher. She liked him, followed him around, treated his words like gold.
And he knew. He saw something. He believed.
So she did too.
And she ran. And won. Like the 800 meters at a school sports festival in the seventh grade, the first race she ever entered.
NOW HER FACE GLOWS again, and her joy bubbles over, and she can't help but laugh as she tells this part of the story. "I was happy," she said.
Because then she knew. She just knew.
"I can do it," she said.
She had found her talent. And it was wonderful.
But that was only the beginning of the story, and in high school those legs gave her trouble again.
"My legs had many injuries from running," she said. "Because (in) running, legs are always straight. But my legs were kind of curved, right?"
There were many injuries, during her high school and college years.
Eight years, in all. Eight years, after her initial joy of discovery, were filled with pain and frustration and mediocre times. Eight years of struggle.
But she never gave up. She always believed. Because she had found herself. And she would not give that up.
"I, um, I didn't want to throw away my talent easy," she said. "I just believed I can do it in the future. And that is very important for me.
"It's easy to throw away a talent. Sometimes people, if people want to find talent, it's very hard. But I could. So I didn't want to throw it away easy."
SO THEN she graduated from college, and her running career should have been over. But she wasn't going to throw it away that easy.
She needed to find a team. In Japan, it's a "company." Usually, the companies recruit the colleges for their teams, but Arimori wasn't getting recruited. She just wasn't good enough. Her times weren't good enough. They didn't want her. But she had her talent, she knew that, and so she wasn't going to stop now. Not now. She would approach them.
Some friends knew a famous coach, Yoshio Koide, and they set up a meeting.
He told her. He didn't mince words. "You have nothing," he said. "No credentials."
But the famous coach saw something. In her eyes. Her face. Her vigor and potential. This was a woman who had discovered her talent. And the famous coach saw it. He would take her on.
"He has dreams," Arimori said. "We had the same dream for the Olympic Games."
She was running again. Running right onto the beach in the Barcelona Olympics, and down the home stretch in the stadium she was battling for a gold medal. "Like a dream," she said.
After the Olympics, it was very hard. She had done so much, and it felt like it just didn't matter. The first Japan woman to win a track and field medal since 1928 and she was still an amateur. All she wanted was for people to recognize her talent. To do what she was good at in life. But it felt like no one else cared. "Nothing changed," she said. And that was very hard to take.
SHE TOOK some time off. She had surgery. Her foot again. Again.
And then the thought of a comeback stirred her. Snapped her out of it.
"I should," she said. "I have to."
She could do it. Nothing changed? She would change it. She had a talent. She would show them. She'd found her talent. She would do it again. They would see.
And running for a bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics, her big brother and his three kids were in the stands. They saw her run for the first time.
"He was very happy," she said.
She was tired at the finish line. She had done it. And things did change. Now Japanese marathoners can make money. Not like baseball. Not big money. But they can use their talent. They can use the talent they've found in life, and not let it go.
ARIMORI RAN TODAY for a charity called Hearts of Gold. It's for Cambodian children that have been victims of land mines. She's discovered that through her running, she can help others. It's a new talent she has. And this one feels even better.
"They have very good eyes," she said of the children.
They have so much potential for her. Their arms and legs may be frail, but in their faces, she sees something.
Just as her teacher and coach saw in her.