I first heard about Veronica Yoko through a video a friend shared with me. Trying to figure out as much Italian as I could, I realised shortly after that I needed to contact her. Veronica has won over 4 medals as a paralympic athlete and she has done all of this, missing half of both of her feet and some of her fingers. After working around her season schedule, she just finished 5th in a competition in Japan, we were able to chat over the phone.
Veronica was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis in April 2011, when she was 15 years old. After spending five months in the hospital, she re-introduced herself to her friends. Meningitis had caused scars all over her legs, arms and some in her face. She was afraid her friends would not recognise her. Her dad, a former athlete, assured her that it was going to be fine: “Wear shorts if you want to, wear whatever you want.”
Finding canoeing was a blessing. “There was a river behind my house and I just decided to try it.” She used canoeing as a diversion from feeling too reliant on her parents. “I kept being mean to my parents,” she confessed “I knew I needed my independence.” Canoeing and sports, in general, gave her more than just freedom: “ it reminded me of all the things I could do.”
Veronica competed in the category of snowboarding at Sochi 2014 and then, back to canoeing in Rio’s 2016 Summer Paralympic Games. When I asked her if she felt uncomfortable about looking differently Veronica replied: “Not really, sports make me feel comfortable because I work with my body every day and that evokes a lot of positive feelings.”
We then discussed some of the reactions she received after her change in appearance. “My mom always protected me,” Veronica said “she would tell me to put on makeup or to use long skirts.” Friend-wise, it took a short time for her friends to get used to her differences,“they are always cheering for me in the race.” As Veronica prepares for her next competition in London, she wants our readers to keep the following in mind: “Enjoy EVERYTHING. I have done so many things, things I was not supposed to do but there is so many things to do, even if it is with some fingers less and some scars more.”
*** What surprised you about Veronica's experience? Have sports helped you cope with your disfigurement? If so, comment below :)***