Sports

Amputee para snowboarder Junta Kosuda turns disability into opportunity


Japanese para snowboarder Junta Kosuda said the loss of his leg turned out to be a blessing in the long run.

“(The story of) losing one leg has become my strongest asset,” said Kosuda, who was drifting through life until finding purpose and focus in para sports.

A drowsy driving accident set Kosuda on the path that led him to the Beijing Winter Paralympics. It was his first encounter with para long jump star Atsushi Yamamoto that inspired him to become an elite competitor.

Kosuda finished seventh in the men’s snowboard cross SB-LL1 category earlier this week, after failing to qualify for Monday’s small and big finals.

The LL1 class, among other things, includes athletes with above-the-knee amputations.

The 31-year-old took a tumble in training before the competition and had to compete with a twisted left ankle and a swollen left eye.

He is hoping for better luck in Friday’s banked slalom event, where he is targeting a medal.

Kosuda had to have his right leg amputated when he was 21. Driving for a moving company, he was responsible for the crash that led to his injury.

Until he was involved in the accident, Kosuda said he was “living life without purpose,” having quit soccer, a sport he began playing in elementary school, and then dropping out of college.

The turning point came in the summer of 2015, when he took part in an athletics class for prosthetics users. Yamamoto was serving as the instructor.

“He was so cool. I wanted to be like him,” Kosuda said.

That fall, the three-time Paralympic medalist in long jump, known for his trademark sunglasses, shaved head and bladed leg prosthesis, encouraged Kosuda to try a prosthetic device and take up athletics.

The following year, Kosuda changed jobs to give him better opportunities to train. Yamamoto, who competed in snowboarding at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics, was also the reason he started snowboarding.

“I have no chance against him in athletics but I felt like I could beat him in snowboarding,” Kosuda joked.

Yamamoto remembers how Kosuda was unmotivated and unproductive when they first met. But he was there to see his protege breaking his bad habits to turn his life around.

Kosuda failed on his way to success, but Yamamoto thinks that is what makes his story very human and relatable.

“Now he has become a great role model of someone who can turn a disability into possibility,” Yamamoto said.

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