“I wanted to hit a ball that was flying through space as hard as I could, even though I couldn’t see it,” he once said. If only there was some way he could hear it.
Encouraged by his high school teacher, and after much trial and error, he created a spongy, lightweight ball that rattles so players can track it with their ears. A new sport was born — blind tennis.
The first national blind tennis championships took place in Japan in the fall of 1990, and there are now hundreds of players in Japan as well as some in the countries he visited to introduce the sport: Britain, Korea, China, Taiwan and, recently, the United States, Russia and Australia.
Takei won many national titles but did not compete in this year’s 22nd annual Blind Tennis Open held in Tokorozawa, Saitama on November 20.
Though it was his blindness that inspired him to push past the sight barrier of the game, which unlike many other sports had not been adapted for the visually impaired because it was thought to be impossible, it was also blindness that led to his undoing.
On the afternoon of January 16, 2011, returning home with his wife, who is also blind, he fell in front of an oncoming train on the Yamanote line in Tokyo. He was 42 years old.
Now his legacy lives on, and his close friend Ayako Matsui, who heads the Asia Conference for the Promotion of Blind Tennis and the Japan Blind Tennis Federation, is forging ahead to realize Takei’s dream to grow the sport and ultimately get it into the Paralympic Games.
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