• Kyodo

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Like other athletes and students around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has forced Paralympian Monika Seryu to review her priorities and make changes.

The 22-year-old, who was eighth in her 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics canoe event, has been selected to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games. But the one-year postponement has thrown both her training plans and her education timetable into disarray.

“The way things stand, I may not be able to graduate,” Seryu said. “I got confused.”

After thinking things through this spring, she abandoned her sole focus on training and resumed her studies.

In June 2013, when she was in high school, Seryu suffered brain damage in an accident and was paralyzed from her chest down, but found inspiration from the doctor who treated her.

“My hope for life was illuminated,” she said.

With the Tokyo Paralympics canoe venue in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, a 15-minute drive from her home, Seryu took a 1½ year absence from Tsukuba University to focus on canoeing to better her chances of reaching the podium at Sea Forest Waterway.

When Japan’s state of emergency began in April, training facilities in Tokyo became unavailable, so Seryu relocated to Okinawa Prefecture. She now trains in the seaside village of Ogimi, where the conditions are similar to those of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic venue.

“The canoe’s buoyancy is different in fresh water. This is a wonderful environment,” said Seryu, who has received generous support from local residents, having installed wheelchair ramps for her.

“I don’t know what I’m aiming for right now because I don’t have immediate goals. I’m training extremely hard, but it’s difficult to stay motivated.”

After the Tokyo Paralympic postponement, Seryu began to think more concretely about her career path. Since the doctor who treated her also provided her with the desire to “become a doctor who gives people dreams and hope,” Seryu now wants to pursue a degree in medicine after finishing her undergraduate work.

Although, she no longer devotes herself completely to canoeing, Seryu is able to continue training in Okinawa while taking her university courses online. So at least for the time being, she can pursue both her goals at the same time — training to win a Paralympic medal, while studying to become a doctor who might provide others with hope.

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