Expanding 'What I Can Do' One by One
-And Enjoying It Immensely

Meet Kae Kurahashi, who works in the Career and Wellness Team in the MOL Human
Capital Management Division, and has an interesting pursuit outside the office-as
a wheelchair rugby player.
This article introduces her trajectory of continuing challenges as an athlete and as
an employee, where she's at today, and her thoughts for the future, in her own words.

Kae Kurahashi, born in 1990, Hyogo Prefecture.
A Japan national wheelchair rugby team player.
She suffered a cervical spinal cord injury in trampoline accident when she was a university student, and was introduced to wheelchair rugby during her rehabilitation. In 2016, she entered Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. In 2017, she was selected as the only woman on Japan’s national wheelchair rugby team and helped them win the 2018 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships and a bronze medal in the 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

'I'm happy to be alive
"—That's the first thing"

I have enjoyed sports since my childhood. Because I was a hyperactive child, never standing still, my parents could not bear to watch me, and maybe they thought, "Let her do some exercise." I guess they thought I would get tired, quiet down, and go to sleep early (laughs).

After trying various sports, I decided gymnastics was the most fun. I started learning gymnastics when I was in the first grade, and continued through junior high and high school. What's interesting about gymnastics is that there are so many techniques. As I continued to practice, I was finally able to master one technique. Then another, and another. I continued to progress, and I was having so much fun.

I started on the trampoline when I went to university. The fun of picking up new techniques was still there. But during a competition in my third year at university, I lost my balance while jumping up into the air, and fell on my head. I thought "Protect my head," but it was too late. I passed in and out of consciousness, and there was no feeling at all even in my arms and shoulders when the rescuers touched me. And I remember thinking, "I really messed up." I had lost all feeling below my collarbone due to a cervical spinal cord injury, and that hasn't changed to this day. Of course, it was a really serious accident, and everyone around me was shocked. But when I came to, my first thought was, "Well, I'm alive, I'm lucky."

When I talk about this, I may seem like a very positive person, but it wasn't always the case. Actually, I used to be the kind of person who gets bogged down with minor details, indecisive and constantly worrying about them. But the accident did not turn me more to that negative direction. Realizing that the accident could have cost me my life, I decided to focus on "being alive now" instead. I want to do my best at what I want to do, and what I can do; otherwise, I'm sure I will regret it. Because like anyone, I may die tomorrow—That's how I was thinking.

The attraction is that
'I can bump or fall'

That being said, "what I can do" was very limited immediately after such a serious accident. I was bedridden for a while. But I could sit up on the bed as I continued my rehabilitation, then could sit down by myself, and eventually I could eat my meals and change clothes by myself. Thinking back, this was a little similar to the feeling of learning new techniques in gymnastics and trampolines. The fun of being able to do what I could not do before. Thanks to my passionate work in rehab, I was able to return to university.

When I was able to get into a wheelchair, my innate exercise lover returned gradually. I knew almost nothing about parasports until then, but I found various genres when I started researching. Wheelchair twin basketball*, track and field, table tennis, swimming, among others. . . I experienced various sports in search of one that suited me. I found wheelchair rugby through this process.
Wheelchair rugby is a sport characterized by hard tackles. It is a completely opposite world from my normal life, when my consciousness naturally tends to say, "Be careful not to fall over" and "Be careful not to get hurt," and that's why this sport attracted me. It's fantastic that nobody gets angry when I bump into them (laughs). I couldn't control that feeling, and in 2015 I called the club team and asked if I could join.

Although I joined the club with the sole purpose of "wanting to play," this sport is not that easy for a beginner to jump in and play an active role. Mixed play is a characteristic of wheelchair rugby, but most of the players are male, and when they bumped into me, I was always blown away. Day after day, I continued to practice. My teammates gave me friendly advice. Some of them had played on the Japanese national team in the Paralympics and others were hoping to be named to the national team for the next championship. I wanted to reach that goal and decided that's what I would do. But my technique was still not reaching their level. When I look back, it's like, "What was I thinking?"

* Basketball, designed to allow people with quadriplegia to enjoy playing by setting up a pair of lower height baskets in addition to those at regulation height.

An 'athlete' with
no achievements

About that time, I joined Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL), where I work now. When I was thinking about what I should do in society and what I can do, and as I got more interested in wheelchair rugby, I found that some companies have special recruitment efforts for employee-athletes. I joined MOL as if I were linked by fate, but I'd had very little success as a player. The company welcomed me—I was still at the point of "I want to try it"—by saying "We still want to cheer you." So MOL is a broad-minded, tolerant company (laughs).

Initially, I started working in the office three days a week and allocating two days to play wheelchair rugby. I am assigned to the Human Resources Division and have various responsibilities. I focus on activities to promote understanding of diversity through internal communication and convey the appeal of parasports including wheelchair rugby. I'm trying to build understanding little by little, for example, by holding a wheelchair rugby trial session and writing an article for the online in-house magazine. More employees are coming out to support me at competitions and volunteering to support the events. It makes me so happy to be in charge of that.

big stage, and ...

In 2017, thanks to such great support from the company, I was designated as a strengthening player on Japan’s national team. Opportunities to play in various games including overseas competitions increased at once, and my lifestyle changed completely. I was allowed to work in the office for two days a week instead of three. I remember going through hectic days, but every day I realized I was getting closer to my dream, and worked feverishly, both in practice and in competition. As a result of these ongoing efforts, I was able to participate in the 2018 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships, and help my team win the gold medal.

I felt really positive and eventually turned to my next goal, the long-cherished 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games, but I had shoulder problems due to overwork. I continued to practice as much as possible while carefully monitoring my condition, and I just barely made it to play on the big stage-the Paralympics-as a member of the Japanese national team. We won the bronze medal after five days of competition against the world’s strongest teams, and I tried for all I was worth, right alongside my teammates. This is of course a big achievement, but right after the games, I was haunted by the thought that we did not win the gold medal. The regret remains, and I didn’t know why, but I still could not sincerely think, "We did it!"

But everyone I encountered after the games ended said, "I watched the games," "That play was amazing," or "Congratulations." MOL also held a grand celebration-unfortunately online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I received kind words from everyone, from our members at all levels of the company. Thanks to their words, I was able to accept the result little by little. I did what I could do, I did my best-I was able to accept that for myself.

The Japanese kanji character
"楽" indicates the path

For the last few years, I set the big goal of participating in the Paralympics and single-mindedly headed straight toward that goal. Though I could not reach the ideal of the gold medal, I made this dream come true and now I am deciding what I should aim for in the future. I could say "The next target is a gold medal," aiming even higher, but I want to turn to a simpler approach, taking the games one at a time and savoring the joy of playing.

The character "楽" in the word "楽しい(tano-shii or joy) is little special for me. My physical therapist, who took care of me when I was working so hard in rehabilitation, wrote this character on her message to me when I left the rehabilitation center. She wrote many words of encouragement, finishing with one big character-"楽." I learned that I need to try my best, but it's also important to relax and have fun (ki-raku="楽"), and enjoy (tano-shimu "楽"しむ) daily life.
Accumulate what I can do where I am now and live while enjoying life to the fullest- while being conscious of this, I continue to live my life as an athlete and an employee.

The 'Challenge' for Me

The MOL Group values are expressed in "MOL CHARTS." The "C" in "CHARTS" stands for "Challenge." If I set a goal and face every challenge in achieving it, I can make a big dream come true—This is what I personally experienced as a person who tried and succeeded in making it to the Paralympics. But the scale of the goal may actually not so important. The experiences I mentioned in the article, such as mastering new techniques in gymnastics and being able to eat my meals by myself using the parts of my body that I could move, all resulted from "challenges," and the willingness to try and conquer them. Seeing who I am and what I can do after overcoming these hurdles is a truly joyful experience, so I want to continue facing all kinds of challenges.