Encounter with a Samurai
Atacama Crossing competitors are warriors, one and all, but coming across a Samurai in the middle of desert yesterday was something of a surprise.
Actually, it was just Japanese competitor Wataru Tabuchi, as nice a guy as it’s possible to meet and one unlikely to pull out a sword to settle any conflicts. It’s safe to say Wataru and his small band of countrymen participating in this event are the happiest guys out there, perpetually smiling and completely stoked to be trucking across the desert under a searing sun.
The primary school teacher at Kunitachi Gakuen Elementary School is a 4 Deserts first timer. Indeed, the soccer playing 27-year-old has never done any endurance events before, not even a marathon.
If you’re a competitor, language differences matter little in this event. If you don’t share the lingo with someone, there are plenty of other ways to communicate. You fully appreciate what everyone else is going through and sometimes there’s no need for actual words, just a look, nod, or handshake.
But when it comes to interviewing competitors in a tongue you don’t possess, it’s useful to have a little help. Keen to find out more about Wataru’s obvious fighting spirit, I caught up with him at the end of Stage 3 yesterday and, thanks to the language skills of French competitor, Olivier Thiriet, and Atacama Crossing volunteer, Tze Loong Tan, I was able to get a few words with the man himself.
“It is very difficult for me, but it is good,” said Wataru when asked how he was finding the event so far. “This is my first time.”
And then, in one of the most memorable exchanges I’ve had in this event so far, I asked my translators to find out if Wataru was proud to be representing Japan in the Atacama Crossing. Between them, Olivier and Tze tried to convey what I was getting at, but we weren’t quite hitting the mark.
Suddenly Wataru’s face lit up. He rolled up his sleeve to expose the Japanese flag on his arm and slapped it - and his heart - with his hand. He knew exactly what I meant.
“Samurai! Samurai!” he shouted, before pulling off his white headband and unrolling it. It was covered in Japanese characters and I figured it was some kind of traditional warrior message. But there was an unmistakably child-like quality to the characters and drawings.
“My students,” he said with immense and moving pride, before rolling it back up and bowing deeply. There was really no way you could follow something like that with any more questions about blisters, or sand dunes. All of us at the finish line checkpoint got lumps in our throats.
So on goes Wataru, with the hopes and wishes of a classroom of children around his head and in his heart.