Japanese Swimmer, Cancer Survivor Qualifies for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago, has qualified for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. 

The 20-year-old athlete competed in the women’s 100-meter butterfly during the national championships held at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Sunday, according to Reuters. Ikee is now qualified to compete in the 4×100 medley relay at the Olympic Games this July.

“I am so happy right now,” Ikee shared during an interview. “I never thought I would be able to win the 100. I was much less confident than at the Olympic qualifiers five years ago. I thought winning was something that would only happen in the distant future.”

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Ikee was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019 and only started training again in March 2020, CBS News reported. She spent 10 months in the hospital fighting cancer.

“I couldn’t bear to hear noise, I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to watch TV,” Ikee told TV Asahi in February 2020, according to Kyodo News. “I wanted to die.”

“If I hadn’t believed it would be temporary,” she added, “I wouldn’t have been able to bear it. But then, as I turned the corner, I could go out and eat out, and that joy was unbelievable.”

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After being discharged from the hospital in December 2019, Ikee said she returned to school and remained positive about life.

“How could I have felt that way when such enjoyment in life was possible?” she said as she looked back on the dark moments of her life. “It’s a miracle that I’m alive, a miracle that I’m here. I never once thought, ‘If only I hadn’t gotten sick.’ Instead I think of all the lessons it has taught me. I hope so many other people can take courage from my example of one healthy person.”

Ikee, who started competing again in August 2020, said her goal was to enter the 2024 Olympics in Paris, not this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

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“I wasn’t really aiming for victory,” she said. “No matter what place I come in, I feel happy to be here.”

Ikee won six gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta for the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and the 50- and 100-meter butterfly. She also took home two silver medals. Ikee placed sixth at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro for the 100-meter butterfly relay.

Feature Image via Getty

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