SANTIAGO – When it comes to Para sport trailblazers in Canada, the name Yuka Chokyu rarely gets mentioned.
Yet there she was this week at the 2023 Parapan American Games, 56 years old, facing younger players and beating most of them in the Para badminton tournament. She’s not as quick as in her wheelchair tennis heyday but her anticipation game is better than ever, and she hits with pinpoint accuracy.
Chokyu opened the Parapan Am tournament with three consecutive wins, all against younger opponents. On Wednesday, she defeated Jacquelin Karina Burgos Javier of Peru, 21-13, 21-16 then took out Auricelia Evangelista of Brazil 21-7, 21-11. The next day, another Brazilian Ana Gomes went down 22-20, 21-4.
Javier must have learned some lessons because she returned to beat Chokyu in a hotly contested semifinal 23-21, 19-21, 21-14. It was the first time in five matches the Peruvian has defeated Chokyu.
‘’She totally beat me today,’’ admitted Chokyu. ‘’I did my best but it wasn’t the day for me. I put too much pressure on myself because I wanted to win. But I want to enjoy the last match of the tournament.’’
Chokyu now goes for bronze and a second career Parapan Am medal Sunday against Amy Burnett of the U.S. Chokyu won silver in 2019, the first time Para badminton was on the Games program. It also made its Paralympic debut in 2020.
The Japanese born Canadian started playing wheelchair tennis in the 1990s after a car accident left her a paraplegic. She struggled at first but thanks to a persistent coach and gradual improvement she loved the sport.
Her career highlight was advancing to the quarterfinals at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in both women's singles and women's doubles in wheelchair tennis. She was also on the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic teams.
‘’When I went to my first Paralympics there wasn’t much awareness for the Games,’’ Chokyu said. ‘’But it’s getting more attention nowadays and the promotion has increased as well. It’s much more professional on and off the field.
‘’We are treated like real athletes.’’
Chokyu doesn’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t pursued sport and a healthy lifestyle after her accident.
“I’m young still,’’ she says with a laugh. ‘’I cannot walk at all so if I don’t do any physical activities, I get sick a lot easier, stiffness develops. When you have a disability, it is very important to be active and enjoy your life.’’