English-language student, Airi Ike from Tokyo, said attending Bond University had helped give her the edge she hopes will enable to realise her dream of competing at the 2016 and 2020 Paralympics.
Airi, who is 17 years old and has just returned home to commence Year 12 at Tokyo Seitoku High School, has been studying English at the Bond University English Language Institute (BUELI) on the Gold Coast for the past two months.
In addition to returning home to school, this month Airi will also be competing in the qualifiers to represent Japan in the 100m backstroke and 50m freestyle events at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
At just nine years of age, Airi was diagnosed with cancer in her leg and had to undergo an operation to remove the cancer which left her without full mobility.
Following this she started swimming as a form of rehabilitation and by 13 was swimming competitively.
At 15, Airi won a gold medal in the 50m freestyle at her First Paralympics Asia competition and then in 2015 she was a finalist in the 200m medley at the World Paralympic Championships in the UK.
Airi said the reason she came to Australia, and the Gold Coast in particular, was twofold: to train and to improve her English.
“I wanted to be a more competitive swimmer and I wanted to become a ‘global citizen’,” she said.
“The Gold Coast is beautiful and I love the relaxed lifestyle, beaches and friendly people.
“I really liked the teaching methods of the staff here at Bond University. They explain things very well and are patient and kind.
“When I first arrived, I couldn’t speech much English at all, but I’m surprised how much I’ve improved in just two months.
“It’s great learning English in such a multicultural class too. I’ve made friends with people from all over the world including Brazil, Korea and Norway.
“The Bond campus is fantastic, the facilities are of a very high quality and as a student I can use the gym and the outdoor heated Olympic pool whenever I like.”
In addition to studying English at Bond, Airi was training two hours every morning and every afternoon with High Performance Swim Coach Graeme McDonald of Somerset College, one of Bond’s Collegiate Partner Schools.
She said the training and coaching style in Australia was very different from Japan.
“It is very intense and has changed the way I think about my swimming. It’s taught me to be self-motivated and more self-sufficient in how I train,” Airi said.
“I have taken a lot more responsibility for my training schedule and freedom to change my stroke and my schedule.
“I think it has been a very good experience for me which has prepared me very well for the upcoming Rio Paralympic trials.
“Not only has my swimming improved and I’ve become more competitive, but by learning English here at Bond University, I can now compete internationally both in the pool and out, as I can now interact with competitors from many other countries.
“I love the profile the Paralympics athletes have here in Australia. The Australian Paralympic swimmers train together with the Olympic swimmers at the same time in the same place; they are treated the same which is great to see.”
Airi’s goals are firstly to compete in the 2016 Olympics and ultimately win Gold at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
“I’m very excited that the Olympics will be held in my home town in 2020 and I can’t wait to be a part of them,” she said.
Airi would then love to return to Australia to live, study, swim and work.
Update: Airi Ike has made the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, competing for Japan in seven swimming events. View her Paralympic event schedule and profile here: www.rio2016.com/en/paralympics/athlete/airi-ike