Personality Profile


Picture of blind ironman Yanagawa Harumi
ironman Yanagawa Harumi

Blindness was no excuse for Ironman Langkawi’s participant, Yanagawa Harumi, to have as much fun possible

Fifty –four- year-old Yanagawa Harumi from Japan was the only “blind man” to participate in the Ironman Langkawi 2010. This was his fourth time contesting in this race, having been a participant in Ironman held in America, Japan and Korea among others.

Yanagawa makes it a point to participate twice each year in the event. Having lost his sight when he was eight due to an eye infection, Yanagawa never despaired. He learned Braille, massage and acupuncture, going on to become a masseur and acupuncturist. Life became sweeter when he met his future wife while working in Tokyo. The couple became proud parents of a girl and a boy, both able-bodied children.

Sports have always been an area of interest for Yanagawa. He was a judo champion at age 20, having learnt it in just three years. He enjoys taking part in marathons, with his first marathon five years ago. He won a gold medal at the USA Paralympic Atlantla Olymmpic 1996 August, running a distance of 42.195km at an incredible speed of 2:50:45.


Picture of Ironman Yanagawa with his guide Sam
Ironman Yanagawa with his guide Sam

Yanagawa emerged champion in the special categories. This victory boosted his confidence, making him trying out other sports. In 2007, he joined the Ironman Langkawi and has been participating every year since.

And unlike other contestants, he likes the Ironman Langkawi challenge because of hot  weather, which is a big challenge for him.

Yanagawa is friendly towards all those he meets, especially his fellow participants of Ironman.

“We all are the same because we have the same dream and goal. We are like a family and joining the Ironman is a great way of meeting up with them.”

His next challenge is the Ironman Hawaii. Challenges in fact are what keep him going. Ten years ago he participated in the long distance run, covering 270km in Japan. He ran for 55 hours, with no sleep at all.

“If we got tired, we rested at the restaurants before resuming our run,” Yanagawa recalled.

Once a week, Yanagawa goes for training at University Tokyo. He cycles and swims. While he exercises hard, he also enjoys his food and his drink.

“If I win the prize money I would like to use it for next year’s registration fee because I want to participate in Ironman every year.”

During his Ironman Langkawi, he was paired with another contestant who ran, swam and cycled with him. When he swam, Yanagawa had four supporters who swam with him with two by his left and right side each and another two behind him. So when Yanagawa swam, if his orientation was over the line, the supporter would pull his leg or hand, so that he knew the direction in which he was going.

After completing the swimming category, Yanagawa jumped onto the bicycle with his partner Sam, using the two- person bicycle to cycle. It was this bicycle that he first used in the Ironman challenge five years ago – it cost him one million yen. Sam sat in front and Yanagawa  behind, and together they peddled the machine, coordinating it carefully. For the final segment, the run, Yanagawa used a rope to bind Sam and his hands together before dashing off.

When he reaches the final line, Yanagawa said he felt very tired and his body ached. But then the prize was worth the effort. Last year was Yanagawa’s best race, clocking 11:12:30.

This year Yanagawa clocked 16:25:32. His Ironman partner Sam joked:

“Because of me, he reached the final line very late. Maybe next year Yanagawa will not choose me as his partner.” But for Yanagawa, it was the hot weather that slowed him down.

“Still, it will be a good memory in his life. Matakimas! (I will be back)” Yanagawa said.


CHALLENGES VOL3 ISSUE2 2010 (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)