Student trainer aims for Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Movin' Mavs trainer Yuta Saito prepares to load equipment into a bus March 17 after the end of the 2018 National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Saito hopes to be a trainer for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan. 

Reaching the pinnacle in sports and having a shot at that brass ring is an ambition that many athletes strive for, but for Yuta Saito, just being involved in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan, will be a dream come true.

Saito, 29, is an English freshman in the university’s English Language Institute. He traveled from Japan specifically to pursue being a trainer for the Paralympics.

The institute provides intensive English as a Second Language programs for international students, according to the program’s website.

For Saito to reach that goal, he has been working with Doug Garner, Movin’ Mavs head coach, as well as studying English at UTA’s institute in Trimble Hall.

Garner said Saito is one of the most helpful guys on the team and is always ready to do whatever task the Movin’ Mavs need help with.

“He just looks for the little things and does them,” Garner said. “He’ll come in and if we need people at the score table, he’ll do that, if we need someone to move chairs, he’ll do that, if we need something to be setup up, he’ll be like ‘Do you need help with that?’”

Saito said he grew up playing baseball until he was in college, when he decided to pursue his studies.

After graduating, he began a master’s program and started regional softball, Saito said.

Saito’s said his mentor with the Movin’ Mavs is graduate student Daisuke Mistumoto, who has helped him adjust to the American lifestyle. Mistumoto has been trying to help Saito maximize all the resources that he has available to him.

“He’s the founding father of regional softball in Japan,” Mistumoto said.

Mistumoto met Saito through his involvement in wheelchair softball, where Saito acted as an assistant coach on the team during his time in Japan.

During Nationals last March, Saito came to observe the Movin’ Mavs team. Mistumoto said Saito studied the team like a hawk before becoming involved in the program.

Saito grew numerous adaptive sports in Japan including wheelchair basketball and tennis, Mistumoto said.

“He was teaching sports and is always looking for a chance to bring himself here to learn more,” he said.

UTA was the right fit for Saito of the great adaptive sports programs, he said. The university had a great spokesman for adaptive sports in Garner, and Mistumoto’s relationship with his coach led Saito to choose UTA.

Besides baseball, other sports are not fully developed in Japan, Saito said, but he hopes to help grow others in time for the Paralympics.

Everything is not solely dependent on 2020, Saito said. He wants to establish and further grow other college sports and junior programs.

Saito learned a lot of sports fundamentals by virtue of playing baseball for so long, he said.

With the Paralympic games only two years away, Saito said he feels a lot more training regimes need to be put in place to develop the game.

“In Japan, it is not developed enough,” Saito said. “If we’re a good player we cannot be better, then better, then better without a good facility. They kind of lack facility [programs] and money also.”

For Saito to transition into coaching, he said he needs to take small steps to be given a chance as an adviser for the Japanese national team.

The Paralympic Games in 2020 will be used as a platform for Saito to build connections within the team and hopefully lead him to help out with other sports in the event, he said.

Once the semester is over, Mistumoto said Saito will be going to the Lakeshore Foundation in Alabama, which he said will help him further his education in adaptive sports.

As he prepares to coach at the international level, Saito said he has been trying to observe as many on campus sports as he can to increase his knowledge and get out of his comfort zone.

Saito said Garner has helped him with almost everything since he arrived at UTA.

Garner said despite the language barrier that Saito faces with the team, his work ethic toward learning English is what will help his country prepare for the Paralympic Games and create job opportunities.

“He’s a good problem solver,” Garner said. “It’s super smart of him to come down here to work his English, so that when it gets time for Tokyo, he’s ready to be part of things on their end.”


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