Special Contributor to CSNChicago.com
Barbra Shimoda said she vividly remembers the first time her son starting skating at the age of 7. She never imagined it would lead to him attending the 2017 Special Olympic Winter World Games.
"Not in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen," Barbra Shimoda said. "We know we have our State Games in Illinois but the World Games—it's just not something you can plan for."
Out of 6,800 Chicago Special Olympic athletes, Tommy Shimoda is the only Chicagoan attending the games. The 24-year-old is headed to Austria in March with six other athletes from Illinois that will be representing Team USA. He will be competing in two speed skating events; the 500-meter race and the 777-meter race.
Shimoda is diagnosed with autism and communicates to others using a voice box. He’s been skating for 17 years and said his biggest inspiration is his brother, Clarke.
"I like speed skating because I get to go fast," Shimoda said. "Since I started training more for the games, my brother said I now skate faster than him."
Shimoda has been preparing for the World Games ever since he found out he would be attending after the State Games last year.
"I have been practicing three times a week," Shimoda said.
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Almost a week ago, the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. They now have new dates set for 2021.
The Olympics have been rescheduled for July 23 through Aug. 8, 2021. The Paralympics will take place on Aug. 24 through Sept. 5 of 2021.
Those dates are exactly one day short of a one year delay (to set the Games to start and finish on the same days of the week) to fit in with the international sports calendar and to be able to maintain as much of the original schedule as possible.
“It is fantastic news that we could find new dates so quickly for the Tokyo 2020 Games,” President of the International Paralympic Committee Andrew Parsons said in a press release. “The new dates provide certainty for the athletes, reassurance for the stakeholders and something to look forward to for the whole world.”
The press release also noted that all athletes already qualified for Tokyo 2020 will keep their spot.
The four-year cycle of the Olympics and Paralympics presents athletes a long runway to prepare to be at their best when it matters most. Tons of planning and work go into peaking at that time that comes once every four years.
With the Olympics being postponed, that work has been severely disrupted for the athletes involved. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist and University of Illinois product, is one of those athletes, but she agrees with the decision to postpone the Tokyo games.
“I know a lot of emotions are happening during this time, but we are putting health and safety first and I think that’s the most important thing,” McFadden said in an interview with NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico. “When you talk about the Olympics and Paralympics, it’s the largest gathering of the entire world coming together so really the top priority is to put safety first and I have to respect that.”
McFadden won 16 of her medals, and all seven of her golds, in wheelchair track and field. She also has a winter silver medal in cross-country skiing.
Before she knew the Olympics were going to be postponed, McFadden had already changed her training routine so she could do it at home and made a gym for herself at home.
“I just tried to stay patient and stayed relaxed in a time of panic,” McFadden said. “Just doing what I needed to do and not knowing the unknown.”
Even with the Olympics officially postponed, McFadden and other athletes still have uncertainty in their lives, but she is trying to stay ready for what comes next.
“I’ve always been resilient and I’ve always fought during different parts of my life,” she said. “This is just another resilient moment that we’re going to have a little bit of a pause, but I’m going to come back stronger and better than ever. I know Tokyo is going to be putting on the best games ever next year so I’m definitely looking forward to next year and I think people are as well for watching the Olympics and Paralympics.”