Hiroko Kondo, 49, who came in fifth place among visually impaired runners in the women's marathon at the Rio Paralympics on Sept. 18, the final day of the Games, felt her husband from heaven propelling her through the streets of Rio.
Two years ago, Hiroko lost her then 49-year-old husband, Hidehiko, who had been her biggest cheerleader, to a stroke. She was unmotivated to do anything for a while afterward, but resumed training when she was reminded of her husband's wish of accompanying her to Rio.
At age 33, Hiroko developed pigmentary degeneration of the retina. The range of vision in her right eye is about the size of the hole in a straw, and in her left eye, about a pinhole. She shut herself inside her home, but when in 2005 she discovered marathons for the visually impaired, she came to love feeling the breeze on her skin as she ran. Seeing his wife re-energized, Hideko happily saw her off to practice and training trips.
In September 2014, Hidehiko suffered a stroke at their home in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture. Hiroko, who had been out, did not make it in time to be with her husband for his final moments. Having lost her beloved partner, she shed tears over his photos, and even considered quitting running. It was then that the younger of her two sons suggested that she continue running not just for herself, but also for her husband.
Shortly before Hidehiko suffered a stroke, he happened to mention to Hiroko that he wanted to go on a family vacation. When Hiroko, preoccupied with her training, gave him a perfunctory response, Hidehiko told her, "Will you at least take us all to Rio with you?" Her son reminded her of that request, and Hiroko began training again.
At the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon this past February, which was the final qualifying race for the Rio Paralympics, Hiroko came in second at 3:18:05, recording her personal best and sealing a spot at the Games. After the race, she looked into the eyes of a photo of her husband and said, "The reason I was unbothered by the headwind in the race was because you were pushing me from behind."
Then came Rio. Hiroko gave the race everything she had, and more.