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The past 36 hours have been bizarre. Travelling on a long-haul flight is a new experience for me and doing so during the COVID-19 pandemic is nothing short of daunting. But when the destination is Tokyo for a Paralympic Games, you do so with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.
When I look back on the journey, the prominent thought will be of documents. Documents, documents, documents. COVID certs, accreditation, health checks, customs checks, immigration checks, to say nothing of trying to keep an eye on your usual passport and boarding card.
To make it onto the plane in London Heathrow was an immense relief. And a huge pleasure to share a plane with a group of competitors from Team GB, exchanging pleasantries with our small group of green jersey-clad travellers.
The in-flight entertainment system was loaded up with films and television programmes and games, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the flight tracker, watching as we left England and headed towards the Scandinavian lands. I attempted some sleep at this point but eventually gave up and went back to tracking as we travelled through the vast area of Russia, then Korea, before eventually Tokyo became visible on the map.
My first thought when we landed? Grey skies, pretty much the same as when we took off in Dublin some 20 hours earlier. But as soon as I stepped off the plane and was greeted by the first of many Tokyo 2020 volunteers, I was hit with the buzz and excitement of being part of the Games on the other side of the world.
Japan is known for its polite culture but ‘polite’ doesn’t do any justice to the greeting every single passenger was given. It was warm, friendly and entirely genuine. The volunteers and airport staff went out of their way to make sure our transition through all the protocols was as smooth as possible.
They literally guided us through every step and even went as far as sorting our luggage onto separate trolleys for us so we wouldn’t have to face into the search for our cases after coming through customs. And that level of attentiveness extended to our hotel, and on into the Tokyo 2020 media centre where volunteers have given up their time to make these Games as successful as they can possibly be.
Every day during the Paralympic Games our reporter @MarisaK96 will bring you the latest updates from Tokyo beginning with the announcement of Ireland's flag bearers for the opening ceremony ??
In association with @AllianzIreland #ProudParalympian #Tokyo2020 #TeamIreland #Ad pic.twitter.com/Cpr11jdncw
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) August 23, 2021
It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I’m in Tokyo covering a Paralympic Games, even as I interview athletes and share social media posts. And it probably won’t until the action itself kicks off on Wednesday.
However, tomorrow I get to do something I have dreamed of doing for a long, long time. I get to attend the Opening Ceremony of a Games. I don’t care that there won’t be big crowds or a larger than life atmosphere. Much like the athletes attending, I’m sure.
Tomorrow I will don a green jersey and celebrate as they mark the moment they achieve a life-long goal of becoming a Paralympian and representing their country.
And in a way, I feel as though I will be carrying the torch for Ireland too on behalf of every single fan who wishes they could cheer on our sporting heroes.
Read More About: Paralympics, Team Ireland, tokyo 2020