Blind World Magazine

Visually impaired climber gives everyone a lift.

October 09, 2005.
Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan.

Watching Koichiro Kobayashi enjoy indoor rock climbing, it is impossible to tell that he is visually impaired.

Kobayashi recently set up a nonprofit organization to provide visually impaired people with opportunities to enjoy sports. It is called Monkey Magic, based on people's description of Kobayashi as moving as fast as a monkey and his hope that handicapped people can overcome any obstacle with magical ease.

"I want people to know that they can enjoy sports, despite being handicapped," he said.

The NPO organizes events in which everyone can enjoy sports, including free rock climbing--indoor and outdoor. Kobayashi also holds classes for beginners.

Kobayashi said visually impaired people could excel at rock climbing because they can feel their way up the wall with their hands, moving as slow or fast as they like, but remain safe due to a lifeline.

"Free climbing doesn't need special rules for the handicapped," Kobayashi said. "Some people learn faster than those who are not handicapped."

Kobayashi, who started climbing at the age of 16, used to organize tours for people to enjoy outdoor sports. But at the age of 28, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which impairs vision. There is no cure for the disease, and it is highly likely that he will lose his sight completely.

After receiving the diagnosis, he thought hard about what he could do as his eyesight diminished.

Early in September, he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with other people from all over the world with physical disabilities.

"The handicapped enjoy sport as much as everybody else does," Kobayashi said. "I want to help them find such happiness."

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