HIROSHIMA – Keiichi Tsukishiro, a veteran in the field of prosthetic engineering, will be in Rio de Janeiro this summer supporting athletes taking part in the Paralympics by repairing wheelchairs and artificial limbs.
This will be the sixth Paralympics for the 51-year-old Japanese, who also teaches at Hiroshima International University as a member of the faculty of rehabilitation.
“I will have to play a central role as I have participated in the event more often than most other staff members,” Tsukishiro said.
Born in the city of Kyoto, he first took up the family business of training dogs after graduating from high school. Keenly interested in craftsmanship, he later enrolled in a national training school for producing prosthetic devices.
After completing his studies, Tsukishiro went to Germany to learn advanced manufacturing skills and in 1994 joined Ottobock, a world-leading manufacturer of wheelchairs and artificial limbs.
While engaged in research and development at the company, he was also dispatched to Ottobock’s booth at the Paralympic Games to offer repairs.
He then moved to Ottobock’s Japanese unit. Even after he left in 2007, he has continued providing assistance to Paralympic athletes.
Tsukishiro has so far worked five Paralympics competitions, beginning in 1998 when the event for winter sports was held in Nagano Prefecture.
Top-notch athletes from industrialized countries rarely brought broken equipment to his booth for repairs during the events because they usually enjoyed full support from their sponsors, he said.
But athletes from developing countries often frequented the booth, asking him to work on equipment in surprisingly poor condition, including wheelchairs without brakes or a prosthetic limb with a tip falling off, Tsukishiro said.
He once even gathered parts available in his workshop to assemble them into a new artificial limb for one athlete.
“One day, all of the athletes from a certain country showed up at our booth after learning that repairs were free of charge,” he recalled.
“There are unimaginably large gaps between athletes even before they start competing,” he said, noting the divide between developed and developing economies.
During the Paralympics, the repair staff usually work throughout the day nearly every day without watching the games. Some young prosthetic engineers lose confidence in the face of the wide variety of requests and become eager to go home, he said.
“But that’s the nature of the workplace, full of tension, which I enjoy,” he said.
Tsukishiro said that the happiest moments are when athletes win medals with gear that he repaired and show them off to him.
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