With the 2016 Paralympics underway, LDS Paralympian Ann Yoshida shares her excitement heading into the Games, her motivation for continuing despite setbacks, and the balance she finds in work and faith.
As a KL1 category paracanoe athlete, Yoshida will compete in the 200-meter kayak race categorized for Paralympians that have use of their arms but have no use of their bodies from the chest down. The paracanoe event will debut at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympics.
After a terrible car accident left Yoshida paralyzed from the chest down in 2000, she confronted new challenges that she never expected to face. "A unique feature of trauma is that I had an excuse to change the path of my life and make it more authentic to my beliefs and values," Yoshida says.
Hailing from Mililani, Hawaii, Yoshida lived an active lifestyle before her accident and refused to let her accident limit her. Drawing strength from friends, family, and her own determination, Yoshida worked hard to incorporate her old hobbies into a new way of life.
"I did not really know what I could do after coming home from the hospital," Yoshida says, "and I was motivated to find out what was possible. I think going through this life-altering circumstance, I felt very strongly about participating in all activities that I could do to work toward my balance."
Yoshida says she believes in balancing spirituality, work, education, family life, recreation, and health.
That balance helps Yoshida to overcome challenges and meet goals, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually.
"I developed a goal and steps to take every day to become an elite athlete until I was able to do all the things I desired to do," Yoshida says. "I played tennis, basketball, swam, did marathons, hand-cycled, and got back into surfing. All of which led me to the point I am at now. I grew up surfing and once I got back into surfing, I reached a monumental point in my life that led me to paddling."
Yoshida doesn't just push her limits physically. When she lived in South Korea for her university education, she exercised her faith and determination to attend church, which was almost three hours away. She also worked to develop other talents, like singing, playing the piano, and conducting music.
"The real magic happens outside your comfort zone," she says. "That comfort zone is a place without challenge and difficulty, so no growth is cultivated."
For Yoshida, living fearlessly every day and accepting challenges are key elements of day-to-day life. She encourages and inspires those around her to live the same way.
"I think that if people were not doubtful of their abilities or fearful of the unknown, they would be able to feel real joy in inviting challenge into their life and working toward progress every day," she says. "The truth is that we are all of divine destiny, and we have the capability beyond measure if we just exercise our faith to become who we are eternally."
But Yoshida's journey to Rio wasn't without many setbacks and sacrifices of its own.
"I knew from the first time I went out for Team USA in 2011 that I was going to the Paralympics in 2016," she says. "I wasn’t always sure of how I would get there, but I knew it would happen. I sacrificed all I had planned for in my lifetime—money, social outings, desires—and put all aside to focus my efforts to work toward this goal. My family and friends also sacrificed much to help me get here, too."
Whether she's in South Korea for school or in Rio for the Paralympics, Yoshida knows that her faith and determination can be an example to others, whether they are members of the Church or not.
"It is almost as if the Lord has intentionally put me in situations that allow me to share my love of overcoming challenges and sharing my faith in truth," she says.
Yoshida arrived in Rio on September 6, to prepare for her kayak race, which will start with preliminary heats on September 14, at 9 a.m. and will conclude with the final race and medal ceremony on September 15, at 9 a.m.