Taku Takeuchi of Japan won a bronze medal in the team ski jumping competition at Sochi while struggling with a serious autoimmune disease.
The 26-year-old Takeuchi was hospitalized in January after being told he was suffering from Churg-Strauss syndrome, an incurable autoimmune disorder that causes severe coughing and numbness in the arms and legs.
“I jumped with a desire to inspire those people suffering from the same disease. If you pray, things can come true,” said Takeuchi, whose jumps of 127 and 130 meters contributed to Japan reaching the podium for the first time since its victory in the event at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Even though medicine can treat the symptoms, which include muscle pain and numbness, they can recur.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to the Olympics,” he said.
Yet, his desire to participate remained and he continued to train while in the hospital, where his parents, concerned about his condition, watched over him. His father decorated the hospital room with an enlarged photo of his son with a sheath of gold pasted to his chest.
Japan’s Olympic delegation captain Noriaki Kasai said the thought of Takeuchi’s illness would sometimes bring him to tears. “It chokes me up,” Kasai said. “I tear up thinking about his sickness, so I really wanted him to get the medal.”
Takeuchi had been reluctant to go public about his illness, telling team officials he had been hospitalized for pneumonia. Winning a medal gave him the impetus to discuss it openly.
“If I would have gone public before producing this result, it would have been an excuse,” he said. “I feel nothing but a sense of true gratitude toward the many people who have supported me.”