Noriko Kamiyama may have come to her sport late in life, but the para alpine skier has overcome much more than an age barrier to get to where she is today.

Kamiyama is a 49-year-old Paralympic "rookie" who is also the oldest member of the Japan delegation at the Beijing Games, set to be staged from March 4 to 13. But having beaten long odds just to make the team, she is turning her relatively advanced age into an asset.

"I don't think about age. I compete against skiers who are from younger generations but I'm doing my best not to lose," she said.

Kamiyama, who developed an autoimmune disease that left her with reduced function on the left side of her body when she was 24, registered for a disability identity card in her late 30s, around the time she took up para alpine skiing.

The Hyogo Prefecture native had always loved to stay active, belonging to a naginata pole sword club in junior high and high school and then adding a second sport, the wooden sword fighting discipline known as kendo, to her busy life.

She continued naginata through college and spent her winters skiing.

But her health began to deteriorate just as she started a corporate job at the age of 24, and she developed weakness on her left side.

Then, when she was 42 she underwent cancer surgery that caused her to lose even more function in her left leg and left her in need of a wheelchair.

But she was already well-advanced on her Paralympic journey when cancer struck, even if she had not actively pursued it.

Her passion was ignited when, in her 20s and just beginning to experience symptoms of her autoimmune disease, Kamiyama had a chance encounter with some Nagano Paralympians in a carpark in the mountains. She saw them preparing for competition and was inspired.

"When athletes swapped their wheelchairs for sit skis they were able to move gracefully through the snow," she said.

"I told myself if I can take part in the games one day that's what I want to do."

Alpine skiing in the Paralympics is divided into three categories: standing, sit-ski, and visually impaired.

Because of hand numbness, Kamiyama is unable to use the bladed outriggers which sit skiers use for stability. But her level of function allows her to stand using the unaffected side of her body, so she competes in the standing category.

It was only three years ago that Kamiyama took part in her first international competition, but she quickly worked her way up into the top 10 in the women's World Cup. In a few days, her long-time-coming dream will finally be a reality.

"I kept saying one day, and the next thing I knew I had passed 40 years of age," she said.

"At my age, most women are married with kids and doing all that. But I hope they find their flame and keep it lit," she said.