Paralympic and Olympic medallists, Courtney Ryan and Sandra Sánchez discuss their amazing journeys that go beyond sports in Tokyo 2020/2021.
For Courtney Ryan, a wheelchair basketball player with Team USA, this summer’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games saw her visiting the city for the first time.
She made lots of memories of competing there.
"We didn't get to see a lot of the venues, but the one that really stuck out to me the most was the Ariake Arena, which is where we got to compete for the bronze medal game," she tells My Tokyo.
"Your jaw dropped because you couldn't believe that you were going to be able to compete at something that was just that beautiful."
'An incredibly exciting day'
Courtney and her teammates took on Germany in the match that landed her a bronze medal.
"Waking up the day that we were going to compete, was an incredibly exciting day and also a very nerve-wracking day," she recalls.
Showing off her medal, Courtney adds: "To be able to bring this home to the US, but also to the Ryan family, was an amazing thing."
"These medals are actually made out of recycled materials, recycled cell phones, that Japanese residents were able to donate for the Paralympic and Olympic cause. Their ability to be able to do that and create such art is such an incredible thing."
Courtney says she and her team received a warm welcome when they arrived in Tokyo, what is known in Japan as ‘Omotenashi’ hospitality.
"You could tell that the accessibility was not an after-thought. It was always very easy to manoeuvre your wheelchair, to get from point A to point B," adds Courtney.
"And they made sure that each bus that we were able to get on was accessible as well."
'Pride and love'
Courtney would like to visit Tokyo again, to explore the city.
"You can tell that they have so much pride and love and culture within their community," she says.
For Sandra Sanchez, a Karateka with the Spanish team, this summer’s Olympic Games took her back to a city she had already visited and loved.
"I already knew it, I knew the culture," she tells My Tokyo.
"When we arrived at the Games, arrived at the Village, we saw everything that all the volunteers had set up. They made us feel loved."
'Imagine the excitement'
For Sandra, her latest visit was extra special because of the significance of her sport.
"The feeling when you know you’re going to your first Olympic Games, the first Olympic Games for karate, in Japan, in Tokyo, which is the birthplace of your sport, well, imagine the excitement," she beams.
Crying with emotion
Sandra scooped an Olympic gold medal in the Kata category of karate.
"From the moment you realise you’ve won, until they give you the medal, I just thought 'I want to see it, I want to touch it, to feel that it’s real, that it’s mine.' I was crying with emotion," she recalls.
Returning to Tokyo
Sandra loves many things about Tokyo, particularly the Akihabara electronics district, which is a colourful spectacle at night.
"Any neighbourhood you get to know, any place, any temple that you visit, is always impressive," she says.
"Choosing my favourite food from Japan is difficult because I like lots of things," Sandra adds. "But it’s true, I really love everything about sushi."
Tokyo has a special place in Sandra’s heart, somewhere she would love to return to soon.
"I really want to go back to Tokyo, in fact, I would go back today if I could, to continue learning and to continue growing as a person and as a Karateka," she says.