The sporting world was taken aback in February 2019 when then-18-year-old swimmer Rikako Ikee of Japan revealed her leukemia diagnosis.
The announcement came just a handful of months after the freestyle and butterfly ace was named as the first-ever female MVP of the Asian Games, an honor which proceeded her 100m fly 2016 Olympic final appearance and individual gold medal at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.
After almost a year in the hospital, the Renaissance Kameido swimmer was officially released in December of 2019 and has been slowly making her way back to the pool and gym.
While Ikee is still recovering, she is serving as a source of inspiration, not afraid to show the world how she has changed physically and mentally through the adversity.
“It’s a miracle that I’m alive, a miracle that I’m here. I never once thought, ‘If only I hadn’t gotten sick.’ Instead, I think of all the lessons it has taught me. I hope so many other people can take courage from my example of one healthy person. This has been the big turning point in my life”, she stated in February of this year.
Upon her release from the hospital, Ikee identified Paris 2024 as the next Olympics for which she would shoot and that still remains the goal, despite the 2020 Tokyo Games being pushed back a year.
With remarkable mental fortitude, Ikee continues to focus on the here-and-now, as evidenced by her interview with us this week.
Describing her current health condition as stable, Ikee says, “I go to the hospital once or twice a month for regular medical checkups.”
This situation prevents her from leaving Japan for an indefinite period of time. The travel restriction nixes her possible participation in the International Swimming League (ISL) for season 2, but she says, “I hope to be able to compete in the future as it’s a way to compete with great swimmers from all over the world.”
As with swimmers located everywhere, Ikee has been prevented from actually getting into a pool due to the coronavirus situation, but restrictions are slowly being relaxed worldwide, including in Tokyo. In the meantime, Ikee told us she’s been keeping fit via “stretching and muscle training at home.”
When she is able to get back into the water on a regular basis, however, it won’t be with her coach Jiro Miki. “I am not working with Coach Miki anymore,” confirmed Ikee.
Ikee selected Miki, a former Olympian himself, as her new coach in 2018 after rising to fame under the tutelage of Fumiya Murakami. Although Miki remains the coach of Nihon University where Ikee is enrolled at the College of Sports Science, Coach Miki left Renaissance Kameido last year. Ikee says that the search for a new coach is currently under consideration.
The teen isn’t the only swimmer who has recently changed up coaches along her Olympic journey. Rio gold medalist Gregorio Paltrinieri left longtime coach Stefano Morini, selecting to continue his path to another possible Olympic Games appearance under Fabrizio Antonelli.
Closer to home, multi-world champion Daiya Seto just appointed a former teammate and personal friend in 25-year-old Ryuichiro Ura as his coach just over a year out from the Tokyo Olympics. In doing so, Seto said goodbye to Takayuki Umehara, the man under whom now-26-year-old Seto has trained since he was in the 5th grade.
Going back to Ikee, the teen is keeping life simple, focusing on what matters most to her at this point in her young life.
“I have always just wanted to go to school with my friends and return to my favorite place – the pool.”