You’ll usually find Maya on the long jump runway. But the fashion kind is where we caught up with the 34-year-old Paralympian last week at the Nike 2020 Forum in NYC.
She was one of a group of athletes from a diverse range of sports, nationalities and abilities to hit the stage with models and dancers, as Nike launched new collections focused on performance and sustainability.
It was a massive opportunity for the Nike sponsored athlete, whose list of accomplishments include winning gold for the long jump T64 at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai last November. Because, ever since she had her right leg amputated below the knee after a steel frame collapsed on her at work in 2005, she’s wanted to change perceptions.
“It’s very tough in Japan,” she said. “Everybody feels like we [people with disabilities] can’t do anything.”
Before the accident, Maya was an elite tennis player with aspirations to become number one. When she tried playing tennis after the accident, she found that she was treated differently.
“Everybody was just playing me like [they were] playing with the kids,” she recalled. “That's why I changed my sport to track-and-field.”
Maya quickly discovered she had a gift for track, setting new records in the 100m and 200m sprints in Japan within the first year of competing.
She decided to channel the drive she previously had for tennis into her new sport.
“I already had a dream. I really wanted to be the top tennis player in Japan. That helped me,” she said.
“I mean, I just lost my leg. I didn’t lose my heart.”
And just like she did in New York on the Nike Forum 2020 runway, she always makes a concerted effort to proudly show her prosthetic.
“In Japan, if you have a prosthetic on like me, it’s [seen as] a negative, right? But I try to wear shorts or skirts to show how beautiful is it. Then everybody gets interested. When I walk around town, everybody's asking me, ‘Why do you wear that?’ Especially the kids, [they] ask me, ‘Oh my God, it's a cool leg! Hey, how can I do that?’”
Maya laughed, then explained she tells them, “No, no, no, no. You can’t get it!”