Maybe it was because of the excitement seeing Mr. Hamada (the blind runner) and his escort runner Mr. Kim’s dramatic goal, but I wasn’t able to sleep at all that night.
It was already 2am.
In fact, I was like that the night before as well. Kuro gave me a sleep inducing drug, and I was able to get a light sleep.
(I have run 250km in 44 hours without any sleep at all before, so I’ll be OK)
Finally it was stage 4.
We will run seriously from today, as planned.
This stage had the toughest course among all the stages.
You had to run forever through a dry and bumpy course like this.
On a track like a Gateau Chocolat, but with random holes.
At times you had to cross a river.
It was a tough course, but we were able to run a lot more than we had expected.
It turned out we were ranked No.23 for stage 4.
It felt good to rank up a little bit day by day.
My leg was alright.
The only stages left were the 2-day long stage (stage 5) and the final stage 6 on day 7.
Stage 6 was only a 10km course, so whether or not we could finish the race would be decided on tomorrow’s stage 5.
And yet my leg was in perfect condition at this point. It felt like a miracle.
(This is probably because Toshiwo is watching us….)
Let me tell you about Toshiwo.
He’s the other member of Team KIZUNA.
He was a designer known throughout the world.
He designed the uniform that the three of us wore.
He was an experienced athlete.
And above all, he was our mentor.
Toshihiko “Toshiwo” Shimada.
Actually, the three of us had a photo of Toshiwo on our backpack from the very first day of Atacama.
I met Toshiwo 2.5 years ago.
Shin and several other friends could hardly swim (only about 25m) at that time. But we decided to practice and attempt a Triathlon
“Let’s make a cool uniform.”
Being a triathlete for a long time, Toshiwo joined “Iomare”, our triathlon team. And as a designer, he designed our uniforms.
This is the uniform he designed.
The wear has the word “KIZUNA from 2010″ because the team was founded in 2010.
Only 2.5 years old, Iomare kept on attracting wonderful people of various ages and professions. It now has more than 100 members.
The uniform that Toshiwo created became our bond (which means KIZUNA in Japanese).
I admired Toshiwo so much that I once had this conversation with my wife.:
Me: “I want to be cool like Toshiwo.”
My wife: “You and Toshiwo are completely different. Forget it.”
He was so cool.
Then, about a year before the Atacama race, suddenly it happened.
A shocking truth was told.
“Toshiwo has terminal cancer. He’s got only one year to live.”
But Toshiwo was firm. He said, “Overcoming cancer is going to be the biggest challenge in my entire life.”
Always so strong and smiling.
“Let’s do an ‘I-survived party’ after I live through the 1 year that I was told. We should invite the doctor too!”
He would say.
Whenever we would go see him in the hospital, he would encourage us or say kind things to us.
(The photo was taken right after Toshiwo was told about the terminal cancer. The first (original) members of Iomare visited the hospital to see him. The man in the center is Toshiwo)
Toshiwo never lost hope. He always kept his smile in the toughest situations.
It was 11 months later, when our Atacama’s challenge and the date declared by the doctor were both coming near.
Toshiwo, who was becoming weak day by day, told us about a wish he had.
“I’m a shy person – I like supporting others but I never liked being supported. But nowadays, sometimes the pain is so bad that I just can’t bear it. If you guys could cheer me up from Atacama, I believe I can endure some more.”
We were able to receive so much through Toshiwo’s uniform – many friends, many challenges, tons of wonderful experiences and bonds.
And above all, he taught us so many things.
The importance of a team, the excellence of bonds, the value of being able to challenge, and most importantly, how we should live a special life as human beings.
We must do something in return.
Wearing the uniform Toshiwo designed and put his heart and soul into, we would race as a “team”, which Toshiwo values so much.
We would reach the goal in good condition, and become world No.1.
Let’s show him that.
We truly wanted that to happen.
Another thing Toshiwo taught us.
“Always be cheerful and have a sense of humor. Live by entertaining yourself and others. ”
We did lots of serious training menus.
We saved the weight of our equipment.
We were so serious about becoming world No.1.
Still, one of our main concepts was to run in costumes.
Of course, this concept was from Toshiwo’s attitude to “have fun in any kind of situation”.
We told Toshiwo, “We are going to be world No.1 in the uniform you designed! We will run through the desert in costumes! Radish, banana, and giraffe!”
Members of Iomare, Anna and Mizuki sent dolls like these to Toshiwo’s room.
Now Toshiwo was a top class designer in the fashion industry – to see him hold dolls of a radish, a banana and a giraffe appeared so odd.
But smilingly, Toshiwo was gazing at the strange dolls in his hands, saying, “The three would have so much fun running the Atacama.”
Right before we departed for Atacama, Toshiwo said:
“That patch you guys have on your backpack… That is cool. I wish I could have that on my wheelchair so that I could feel like I’m running together while cheering you guys on.”
“You guys will attach a water bottle on your backpack while running, right? I would prefer Starbuck’s coffee!”
(Left: Toshiwo’s partner of 7 years and wife Miki, who married him after he was told about the cancer)
He was always looking forward to our Atacama challenge like that.
But time is limited for everyone. And life can be cruel.
Several days before our departure to Atacama, Toshiwo’s wife Miki, who always had a smile on her face, informed us in tears.
“The doctor told me that Toshiwo may have only one more week left.”
I cried so much that night.
But crying won’t solve a thing.
I must do what I can.
That night, I contacted every member of the triathlon team Iomare, the team Toshiwo gave the uniform as a way to unite us.
“Tomorrow, come to Tengenji intersection where Toshiwo can see!!!”
We wanted to give the best support to Toshiwo and Miki.
Through discussions with Shin and other team members, this idea was born.
“Let’s give Toshiwo a message of support from Tengenji intersection’s overpass where Toshiwo could see from his room. Let’s all dress in the uniform Toshiwo designed.”
Despite the sudden invitation, many members joined us.
This is the photo from the Tengenji intersection.
A message to Toshiwo and his wife, Miki.
“Thank you for the bonds, Toshiwo!”
“Thank you for the smiles, Miki!!”
“We are all a team!!”
Toshiwo had to try hard to raise his body, but he and Miki watched our message.
Toshiwo, Miki, thank you so much!
On February 27th, the day we were to depart for Atacama.
“Let’s visit Toshiwo at 7am, and go to Narita airport at 8am!”
That was the plan. But…
The very day, the very morning that we were to depart for Atacama, Toshiwo, after 11 months of battling cancer, passed away in front of our eyes at 2:43 am, February 27th.
He was only 50 years old.
I mentioned this in my previous posts, but at that time I had a terrible cold and had to go to the hospital right after I came back to Japan.
Then, I went back home to prepare for the departure to Atacama several hours later.
That was when Shin called me from the hospital, and I rushed to Toshiwo’s hospital.
1 or 2 hours later, I had to say goodbye to Toshiwo.
“Toshiwo waited for me to come back from China, and then went to heaven.”
The day Toshiwo passed away, February 27th, was “KIZUNA’s Day”(Bonds’ Day) in Japan.
What a coincident.
Yes, the very word on our teamwear, “KIZUNA since 2010″.
Also our Atacama team’s name, “KIZUNA.”
Toshiwo also made sure to live past February 26th, the anniversary date when he started to go out with his loving wife, Miki.
“Toshiwo, you’re cool even when you pass away….”
A week before Atacama, I ran the Tokyo Marathon in costumes and broadcasted it via Ustream although there was a possibility that my injury might happen again.
That was because I wanted to make Toshiwo, who was getting weak day by day, feel better.
(Shin the banana, me the radish, Mr. Utagawa the cake. The green soybean in the right is Rikimaru, who was the pilot for the flight to New York.)
Because of Shin’s idea to write “Toshiwo” on the stomach, tons of spectators yelled “Go for it, Toshio!!”
Via Ustream, I was able to broadcast that to Toshiwo.
The spectators thought Shin the banana was Toshiwo, but all their cheering was delivered to Toshiwo via Ustream.
When I was concerned about the race due to injury or bad condition, I would always think about Toshiwo.
Even though he always had to fight the fear that he may not survive the night, he would never complain about a thing; he would just smile and be kind to everybody.
He gave me courage.
Right before the departure to Atacama, he wrote a message on our uniform, even though it was so tough for him to even raise his body.
(Kuro couldn’t make it because of an overseas business trip. But he wrote it for Shin(left) and me(right). Because he was becoming weak, it took two full days to write this message.)
He wrote the Kanji character “KIZUNA” right next to the rising-sun mark at the chest.
This was a message Toshiwo handwrote the night before the Tokyo Marathon.
His power was almost gone, and he was losing consciousness due to the drugs.
But he wrote it with all his remaining strength.
It was his last words.
“If we were to eat pasta with everyone after the race, you should immediately decide and eat the one dish you want; You don’t have to try to look clever and selective.
The most important thing to do in Italy is to eat pasta with your favorite friends. That’s what I think.
I’m looking forward to the Tokyo Marathon.
Don’t push yourself too much!
Even in his last message, Toshiwo seemed to emphasize the importance of being a team.
During the past 4 days, we had small fights due to little differences in our approach.
But we shared the same objective.
“You should immediately decide and eat the one dish you want; You don’t have to try to look clever and selective.”
He wanted to tell us how to think and act as a team.
After we saw off Toshiwo several hours before the departure, we came directly to Atacama.
The baggage loss that happened in New York with Shin’s uniform was probably because Toshiwo wanted to hang around in New York.
Toshiwo’s wake was to be held at the exact same time as our stage 5′s overnight run tomorrow night.（Chile time 8am, March 7th. Japan time 8pm, March 7th）
Two “overnights” were about to begin on opposite sides of the earth.
And Toshiwo’s funeral was 14 hours later. (Chile time 10pm, March 7th. Japan time 10am, March 8th)
“Toshiwo’s been watching us from the very start at the Atacama Race. Let’s finish stage 5 by the time Toshiwo’s funeral begins so that Toshiwo will be relieved and can go back to Tokyo.”
After stage 4, our media crew, Ino and Tomo, called us to gather around the media crew tent.
They interviewed Toshiwo before we left for Atacama. They recorded Toshiwo’s support message, and brought it here.
Toshiwo told them to show this video when members of Team KIZUNA must exert all their powers.This was the video Toshiwo handed them.
As soon as I saw Toshiwo’s gentle but strong look in the monitor, I burst into tears. Toshiwo hadn’t said a word.
Ever since I saw off Toshiwo that morning, I tried not to cry.
Toshiwo gave a message to each one of us through the monitor.
He understood us and supported us like this with his strong but kind looks until his final moment.
Full of grace and sorrow, I could not hold my tears. But I managed to watch the message video.
“Toshiwo would be angry at us if we kept on crying. Let’s all finish tomorrow’s stage 5 in good shape. Let’s get it done by the time of Toshiwo’s funeral. After that, let’s pray in silence.”
Let’s absolutely and totally enjoy the race, and show Toshiwo our championship!!!!
(Continue to Part 14)