Japanese Paracanoeist Monika Seryu has described the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as a "symbol of hope" after lifting the lid on her mental struggles during 2020.
Seryu secured her place at the Games with a fifth-place finish at the 2019 Paracanoe World Championships.
Looking to step up her preparations for the postponed Paralympics, Seryu attended a private training camp in Okinawa, only to find out Tokyo 2020 had been pushed back to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although initially content with the additional time to prepare, cancellations of national competitions and the World Championships, and restrictions on social activities, led to Seryu becoming distressed.
"Little by little it started to hit me like small body blows," said Seryu.
"Tournaments were being cancelled, and I lost sight of what I was working so hard towards.
"Not having any competitions for this length of time was a first for me, and the focus of my training shifted to maintaining, rather than improving.
"Mentally, I was going through a tough time."
Seryu found her fellow athletes as a source of inspiration as she and others born in 1997 formed the 97 Club.
"There was plenty of time to talk online during lockdown, about things like when facilities might open again and training regimens," said Seryu.
"Sharing information was encouraging, and I realised that I wasn’t alone in my struggle.
"I gained a lot of strength through those interactions, even though the connection from Okinawa was a bit unstable."
Originally planning to return home to Tokyo last April, she remained in Okinawa until June.
The calmer setting of Okinawa helped her focus on her goals even as she monitored the coronavirus situation at home in Tokyo.
Seryu then relocated to the National Training Centre in Komatsu, Ishikawa, before taking part in the Japan Para Canoe Championships last September.
But she suffered a costal cartilage fracture a week before the event and returned to Okinawa to concentrate on her recovery.
"I’m training on an inland sea, so there’s wind and waves," said Seryu.
"Last year, I focused on just withstanding those conditions, so my paddling was chaotic.
"But now, I can paddle steadily even with some wind.
"I’ve even changed my canoe to one that is better for going straight.
"It’s less stable, but once I’ve mastered it, I’ll be able to improve my time."
Question marks hang over the staging of Tokyo 2020 this year as coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the worldm but Seryu is determined to remain optimistic as she aims to succeed in the women’s KL1 category at the Games.
"I’m surrounded by very positive people, so they probably stamp out all the negativity around me," said Seryu.
"And mentally, I feel young.
"I’ve dedicated myself to Paracanoe and have been preparing for this event since Rio .
"The Games provide the best stage to showcase those efforts.
"Although the global situation is still dire, I’d like for the Tokyo 2020 Games to be a symbol of hope and provide that much-needed light at the end of the tunnel."