Highly Commended

"My Challenge"

Ms.Yoko Kanbayashi (58)

At the end of the Golden Week holidays,a refreshing breeze blows through the bus window."The mountain on the left is Mount Takatsubo,the mountain we are going to climb." "This range of peaks is where I went climbing last year..." As I listen to the members of the climbing club,I am full of interest.I am going to climb that mountain on my own two feet without the aid of sight.

I lost my eyesight soon after childbirth.I had always relied on my husband and children or helpers for assistance when walking,and I had never dreamed of going out alone with a white cane.I was almost 50 before I dared to try walking with a guide dog.That was on July 7,1995.I hate dogs and I hesitated a lot,but my husband convinced me."This is a good chance you've been given," he said.

I was given a dog named Shell.I will never forget how I felt the first time I held her harness and started walking.The instructor ordered,"Go!" and off we went! It was like the time when the kids were young and we had held hands and walked together.

My first year as a guide-dog user was hell.I had hardly walked anywhere for more than 10 years,and it was hard keeping up with Shell's brisk pace.I was supposed to gradually expand my "safe" zone by going out and developing a map in my head.But I have no sense of direction and lack intuition,so I had no idea where I was.I had to ask people the way countless times.One time I got so lost,even Shell refused to move a step.I sat down and could feel water under my feet.We had reached the sea wall! Another time,after a taxi had refused to take us,I had no alternative but to take the bus.I felt really down,but as Shell trotted along wagging her tail,I cheered up.

I grew closer to my guide dog and began to take more walks.I gradually gained confidence in my own body strength.Thanks to this,I got to meet some wonderful people.

One day,I was invited by the local guide-dog users' group to climb up Mount Fuji.I would never be able to see one of those pictures of the sun rising over the snowcapped peak,but I could at least stand on the summit on my own two feet.Shell had given me back the pleasure of walking,and I could go with my husband and her.We trained for the best part of a year for the climb.A friend of ours,a volunteer Braille translator,also said she would like to join the climb,and she prepared Braille materials for me.Everything was ready.

The party of 11 humans and two guide dogs safely reached the top.Breathing heavily,I shared a bottle of water with Shell.We wanted to stop at the mountain lodge."A guide dog is still a dog," they said,and it looked as if I wouldn't be able to take her inside,but they could see how calm and quiet she was,so we were able to stay the night there together after all.

It was sunrise the next morning.The clinging,icy wind gradually subsided.The air felt softer,and I drew in a deep,cool breath.I could feel the emotion coming from those around me.That's it! It must be dawn right now.Without thinking,I put my hands together.My hand and cheeks were warmed.This was the brilliant light that I had been longing for.

With no eyesight and no sense of direction,I had given up the idea of ever moving around freely on my own.But with the help of my guide dog,my view of life had changed.That one step out of the front door was a step out into the wider world.I had learned how to take that step from my guide dog Shell.Eventually the time came for Shell to hand over to my new dog Tasha,but I have continued to enjoy with my remaining senses the pleasures of walking.

Taking a deep breath of the clear mountain air,I slowly edge one step at a time up a steep slope that I could so easily have fallen on.I grasp the rope that is attached to my partner's rucksack.This helps me to guess the direction in which I should move my feet as well as the up-and-down gradients.The stick in my right hand helps me to keep my balance as I move forward.I receive instructions: "There's a big right curve ahead with a 50-centimeter rise." "Be careful of the branch top right." "There's a sharp drop to your left.Be careful." As I move accordingly,I strain my ears to pick up the changes in my surroundings.I can feel the space almost as if the ozone has come down from above.I ask if we are in a beech forest.My partner answers,"Well,so we are.I've spent so much time looking down at my feet that I hadn't even noticed." I can sometimes tell the height and type of tree by the sound the leaves make in the wind.

We continue on a level climb.As I feel a pleasant breeze coming up from below,my partner suddenly stops."There's a really narrow ridge and a sharp drop ahead." She sounds worried.I move my hand from the rope to the rucksack and move carefully,just as she moves.I have to move exactly like her or we could be in real danger.I love it! I can feel the sensations from the soles of my shoes with my whole body,and I can really feel the image of Mt Takatsubo that I had heard my friends talking about on the bus.

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