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Staring down greatness

Blind athlete sees his talent
By: Matt Long
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“I discovered greatness within me despite my disadvantage, and I believe that there is greatness within everyone.” Michael Kinoshita The bruises, gashes and scratches on Michael Kinoshita’s legs are battle wounds from the sport of cross country. None of his teammates on Folsom High’s team has wounded legs like him, however, because they can see the obstacles in front of them. For Kinoshita, a 15-year-old sophomore at Folsom High, rocks, briar bushes, fallen tree limbs or even dips in the course are virtually impossible to see with 20/200 vision, which classifies him as legally blind. He falls, trips, slips and takes more wrong turns than anyone else out there, but he keeps moving forward at a fast rate. Kinoshita was born with achromatopsia, a condition that causes colorblindness, as well as making it difficult to see in high-light levels. He also has no peripheral vision in one eye or depth perception. Kinoshita’s eyes also wobble, a condition call natural nystagmus, which makes seeing even more difficult. His condition has not gotten any worse since birth and because it’s not correctable, it will never get any better. His blindness has not kept him from excelling as a runner, however. In fact, it was his impairment that actually led him to running. In 2003 Kinoshita, along with his parents, Steve and Tracy, and older sister, Alyse, moved to Folsom and Kinoshita was enrolled at Carl Sundahl Elementary School. Because of his poor eyesight, ball sports were too difficult and dangerous for him. His dad and sister, however, were avid runners and with a little encouragement from them, he decided to start running. “I always enjoyed basketball, but that just wasn’t going to work,” Kinoshita said. “I went out for track when I was in seventh grade and I didn’t realize I was good until last year during my freshman year in high school.” In his first race in seventh grade at Sutter Middle School, a one-mile run, Kinoshita placed in the middle of the pack of about 25 runners. By the end of the season, he was the third-fastest runner for Sutter. In eighth grade, Kinoshita trained harder for the season and it showed in his results: he was one of Sutter’s top runners and finished seventh in the league meet. When he reached high school, Kinoshita decided to give cross country a try, a sport much more difficult for the visually impaired than track. His breakthrough race came at the Rocklin Invitational, where he earned a top-10 finish out of 160 runners. “That was a huge confidence boost for him,” Steve said. “He went on to finish fourth in the league and he earned medals at the sub-section and section meets.” Kinoshita added, “Everything clicked after that.” Kinoshita went on to win the Delta River League Freshman-Sophomore League championship in the two-mile run in the spring track and field season. Not only was he named the Outstanding Freshman Runner for Folsom High in cross country and track, but he also was named the Delta River League Sportsmanship Award in cross country. As a freshman Kinoshita received an assignment in English class: write an essay on something you believe in. In that essay Kinoshita wrote about his struggle with being visually impaired and how he’s thankful for it because it led him to find his talent in running. (To read his essay, for which he received an ‘A’, go to edhtelegraph.com) He also wrote how he was inspired by another blind athlete, Folsom’s Richard Hunter, who has completed the California International Marathon a few times, run in the Boston Marathon and also completed various triathlons. “My dad showed me an article about Richard after he ran the California International Marathon and that inspired me,” Kinoshita said. “That gave me hope that I could be good too, despite being visually impaired.” “I was caught off-guard when I read the essay,” Hunter said. “In fact, it choked me up. This is my motivation for all I do and it’s what keeps me going: if I can inspire just one person to take action, then it brings me huge comfort. I think Michael, with his work ethic and passion, can compete in the Paralympics Games some day.” Kinoshita’s cross country coach, Dave Gregson, also believes Kinoshita has a lot of ability. “I’ve heard people talk about Michael competing in the Paralympics, I think he’s got a healthy future running against kids that can see, he’s that good,” Gregson said. David Hanson and Jonathan Barrows, teammates and best friends of Kinoshita, said he’s an inspiration to the team. “I didn’t even know he was visually impaired until his second year of running in eighth grade,” Hanson said. “I was like, wow, he’s doing this even though it’s hard for him. I was impressed by that.” Barrows added, “Mike’s a great guy who works hard and is a leader on the team. He inspires others because all of our excuses are meaningless when we look at what he has to overcome.” Kinoshita is proud to tell his story of overcoming adversity and running. “I’m thankful for my disability because it’s through it that I discovered I’m good at running,” Kinoshita said. “I’m glad to speak about it because I think if other people see that I’m doing this as a visually impaired runner, maybe I will inspire others to do it, whether they have sight or not.” Kinoshita’s dad, Steve, is extremely proud of his son. “I love him more than anything because he’s my son, but to see him overcome his obstacles is a great source of motivation and inspiration to me,” Steve said. “He’s a hard working and motivated kid. I’m very proud of him.” For more visit http://folsomtelegraph.com/detail/158239.html