The Beijing Paralympics have given athlete and special education teacher Shinji Tabuchi an ideal opportunity to put into practice one of the lessons he imparts to students inside the classroom — the need to embrace challenges.

The 40-year-old Paralympic debutant is competing as a snowboarder in the SB-LL2 sport class for athletes with an impairment in one or two legs with less activity limitation.

At age 26, Tabuchi suffered broken thighbones in a snowboard crash during dry land training. After spending four months in hospital and undergoing extensive rehabilitation, he was still left with functional problems in his right foot.

He took part in the first para snowboarding competition held in Japan in 2015 and was named to the national team the following year.

Tabuchi has since then balanced his teaching with his para snowboarding career. He believes it is a winning combination, letting his students see their teacher in a new light.

"You all helped me get to the dream stage. I hope you will watch me take on the challenge and that it stirs up many emotions," he said, addressing his 11th-grade students and colleagues at Wadayama Special Needs School in Hyogo Prefecture in a sendoff party held last month.

Shinji Tabuchi competes in the men's snowboard cross competition at the Beijing Paralympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on Monday. | Kyodo
Shinji Tabuchi competes in the men's snowboard cross competition at the Beijing Paralympics in Zhangjiakou, China, on Monday. | Kyodo

Tabuchi finished 12th overall in his first of two events at Zhangjiakou Genting Snow Park — the men's snowboard cross SB-LL2 — which finished Monday. He hopes to get closer to the podium in the banked slalom on Saturday.

In banked slalom, each rider will race three times, with the quickest run winning. The course will feature a naturally varying terrain with plenty of bumps, dips, and a U-shaped valley.

In addition to teaching his specialist subjects like math and ethics, Tabuchi, who was a general education teacher before he moved to his current school in April 2020, supports the personal development of two students with physical and intellectual disabilities.

"I love my teaching job and I love my students," he said.

His colleagues can vouch for his character and teaching expertise, and high school director Yuka Yoshimoto says Tabuchi is great at using sport activities like table tennis and boccia to motivate students.

Tabuchi rarely shows his athlete side when he is at school. He feels bad about having to leave for domestic and overseas training camps, but his fellow teachers are supportive of his dual career and give him a hearty send-off every time.

With or without a medal, they hope Tabuchi will come back with powerful life lessons his students cannot learn from reading books.

"Our foremost wish is that he comes back with no regrets," Yoshimoto said.