Toiling away in a rehabilitation facility situated in east Tokyo, Hideyuki Sugita is a man on a mission.
Under the watchful eye of a team of physiotherapists, he is working his way through a mixture of exercises designed to boost strength and mobility, including TRX sit-ups, planks, treadmill work and unassisted walking.
Nothing too remarkable – that is, until you consider what the former Keio University rugby player has been through.
“A helicopter was called and came onto the field to rush me to the hospital where doctors carried out two emergency surgeries that saved my life,” said the 31-year-old.
“When I woke up, the doctors told me that I had suffered a serious spinal injury and it was likely that I would never walk again.”
“Sometimes I would prop my feet up so I could look at them and I would pray to them all day long, begging them to move.”
Twelve years ago, Hideyuki broke his neck in the middle of a rugby scrum.
The prognosis was shattering, with his hands rendered immobile alongside a drastically-impaired sense of touch, as well as a reduced ability to experience cold, heat and pain.
For someone who has lived and breathed rugby since the age of 14, it was a death sentence for his one true passion.
“I spent a year in the hospital. The nurses and the doctor became almost like family to me. Each day, little by little, I began to get some sensations and feeling back, starting in my chest and eventually down in my feet. I was praying so hard to get better.”
“At first, I had to use a wheelchair but the moment I started to stand up and walk, I was so happy, because I had promised my friends that I would not give up.”
Buoyed by support from his peers and family, the 31-year-old has persisted through 12 years of painstaking therapy, culminating in an extraordinary recovery that has surpassed all expectations.
This August, he is determined to fulfill a long-overdue promise.
“The year of my injury, our coach had decided the whole team would climb Mt. Fuji on the last day of our Summer training camp as a team-building exercise,” Hideyuki remarked.
“The climb was cancelled in 2007 because of my injury, but I made a pact with my teammates that one day we would make the ascent together.”
“I always felt that my accident was not just a personal tragedy, it was a huge blow to them too.”
Though not quite the doctor’s orders, the climb is a way for Hideyuki to show his appreciation for a close-knit group of friends who have stuck with him through thick and thin.
In his preparations, he has taken on several trial runs to the lower stations of Mount Fuji, as well as the picturesque Mount Takao.
“Some are flying in from overseas to do the climb, and one even rescheduled his honeymoon to take part.”
"I’m not really worried about the physical aspect. I’m more excited by the chance to spend so much time together with teammates and friends I care about.”
In the face of this momentous undertaking, he is not alone - over 100 members and staff from his university rugby team are gearing up to join their former teammate in late August 2019.
While this debilitating injury has left him with a mountain to climb, with a pinch of grit, boundless optimism and the fellowship of his companions, you get the sense that Hideyuki's biggest obstacle has already been conquered.
Follow Hideyuki's progress at http://bit.ly/hideyukisugita.
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