My life has been a good one, despite its ups and downs. I was born in Tokyo and during my early years of living in Japan, I experienced discrimination due to my diagnoses of spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and esotropia. My parents tried to shield me from prejudice as best they could.
I was the first physically disabled person to be integrated into my local preschool. However, despite my parents’ efforts, I still faced discrimination. My mom told me about an incident when I was 2 years old. She had brought me to the train station and asked the attendant for help to get me onto the train using a ramp. He gave my mom a look of disgust and asked her, “Is your son disabled?”
That’s one example of the discrimination I faced at the beginning of my life. In Japan, people with disabilities are hidden. So when I moved to the United States, I was amazed to see many people with disabilities. When I arrived, I didn’t know the language. I was scared and clung to my mother, but by the time I reached second grade, I was OK.
A large part of my early experience in America was that I was the only wheelchair user in my class. No one else in my school looked or sounded like me. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t embrace my disability until years later. I often wondered why I was born like this. I remember sitting on my bed with my mother, crying, and asking her, “Why can’t I walk on my own?” If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self, “Don’t worry, you can contribute so much to society, despite your disability.”
Then one day, my mom took me to VIP soccer, where I met a wonderful little girl named Brianna Pievac. Her energy and enthusiasm left me speechless. I’d never before encountered someone with such a lively spirit. Brianna and I did everything together. We took part in sports and met up every day after school. Her positive attitude helped me see that my life didn’t have to be limited by my disability.
I faced some challenges in school, and as I got older, I rebelled by refusing to walk or crawl. I was involved in a minor car accident in 2010; two years later I was injured in another more serious collision. When I awoke the next day, my back felt like a board. After that, everything started going downhill. I had difficulty walking and had to attend school on a modified schedule because I was unable to remain in a sitting position for more than an hour. Eventually, I got better, and I returned to a regular schedule when I started high school.
Then in 2014, I was diagnosed with neuromuscular scoliosis of my lumbar spine. Dealing with this additional setback was the last straw for me, and I fell into a deep depression. It felt unfair that as my brain was developing, my body was deteriorating. That was my first bout with depression, but I was unaware of this at the time, and successfully hid it from everyone around me. After I got through that period of depression, I understood that the only way to find happiness was to be happy, and my life began to change for the better.
I’m aware of my flaws, but I also see a person for whom few things came easily in his life. He relied on his Christian faith and his friends to get him through the tough times. He made it to the University of Southern California to study journalism and became the ambassador of UCP of Orange County in 2010. My life’s journey has been filled with ups and downs. But I wouldn’t have it any other way — because life is like a storybook and it teaches you many lessons.
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