Part 16. A New Champion Is Born

The final day, stage 6.

If we are able to finish this, we would complete the Atacama Desert’s 250km run.

At the finish line, a shower, great meal, and beer will be waiting for us! (It had been a week!)

And it would be the birth of the World Champions, No.1 Team, KIZUNA.

Everyone seemed to be relaxed on the morning of stage 6.

A photo with our tent mates for the week.

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The backpack which weighed 7.5kg a week before had shrunk so much that the radish looked like the main gear.

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(The white scarf-like thing is the radish costume)

And the final stage started.

So many things happened during and before the Atacama Race.

Recalling everything that took place, step by step we headed toward the goal, the City of Saint Pedro de Atacama.

Team KIZUNA started from a small joke.

Each of us overcame tough hypoxic trainings, handled work, and overcame injuries and illnesses before coming here.

It was probably a small miracle that the three of us were even able to stand at the starting line in good condition.

Even during the race, all three of us were able to head toward the goal without any serious injuries or illnesses.

During the race, we sometimes quarreled with each other.

But most of the time we were able to communicate and understand each other.

Most of the time we were able to bring out the good in each other.

As a result, our bond, our KIZUNA became tighter than ever.

Above all, we were grateful to Toshiwo, who bonded us together, and taught and encouraged us so much.

We were in Toshiwo’s uniform.

We had Toshiwo’s photograph in our hands.

“Toshiwo, we are about to reach the goal. We are about to become world champions because of you.”

(I won’t cry until I reach the goal.)

I told myself. But it was so hard to bear.

I pulled myself together, and kept on moving.

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Finally I saw the sign for the city of Atacama.

The goal is just ahead of us.

After reaching the 250km point, the moment had come.

“Let’s hold hands and run to the finish line!”

So many runners and staff were waiting for us cheering wildly.

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“We did it!!!!!”

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Finally!

Finally!!

The time has come.

Team KIZUNA is the world champion!!

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Holding Toshiwo’s photo.

Thank you so much, Toshiwo…

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Thank you Shin and Kuro, who fought the battle with me.

Thank you Ino, Tomo, Imaoka, who joined the battle together as the media crew.

We did it!!

We finally did it!!!

We’re the No.1 team in the world!!

Thank you so much!!!

Only because of everyone’s support were we able to accomplish this.

I was overwhelmed with thankfulness, and got choked up.

I couldn’t stop the tears falling out of my eyes.

To all the staff and volunteers who manage this race: thank you for staying with us in the desert and supporting us at all times.

To all my friends who supported us: your support gave us the strength. We were able to move forward because of you. I cannot thank you enough.

To our families and our ancestors watching over us: thank you so much for creating a body and soul that can participate in such a race.

To my wife who always supports my various crazy activities: thank you so much. Although I am always out for work or races or drinks, I really appreciate your support. Please forgive me for only giving you words. Thank you.

And…

“Toshiwo, we did it! We won and became World Champions in your uniform!”

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Toshio once said, “Sometimes the peak of pain and anxiety is so bad that I just can’t bear it.”

He is probably watching over us with the exact same smile he showed on that morning after he said those words.

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Thank you for everything - your cool looks,

your smile that you show all the time,

your kindness and courage that would even move the hospital staff,

your wonderful “KIZUNA” uniform,

the spirit of our teamwork,

and above all, your wonderful way of living as a human being.

Finally, we are the world champions for the team race!!!

This was accomplished by everybody’s support and bond (KIZUNA).

Thank you!!!

(Continue to Part 17)