Shingo Kunieda's Challenge "Inspiring! " The cornerstone of Para-sports!"
NEC expresses gratitude to the retiring wheelchair tennis great
"Thanks to Kunieda-san, wheelchair tennis became widely recognized as a sport." "He is the pride of Japan, not only the NEC Group."
Shingo Kunieda, 38, who retired from wheelchair tennis as currently the world's No. 1, visited the NEC Headquarters on February 10 to express his gratitude for NEC's support and to report on his retirement. NEC Group employees, who are aiming to create an environment where everyone can embrace dreams and take on challenges like Kunieda, sent many messages of gratitude and encouragement to Kunieda as he embarks on his next step.
Supporting wheelchair tennis for more than 30 years:
The connection between the "world-renowned Kunieda" and NEC
"Thank you for the inspiration!" "Shingo Kunieda is unbeatable!"
A heavy snow warning had been issued across the 23 wards of Tokyo on the morning of February 10 as members waited for Kunieda at the main entrance of NEC's Headquarters. As part of the welcome for Kunieda, messages from employees were displayed on screens at various places in the main entrance hall that day. Despite the weather warning, many employees came to see Kunieda in person, with some even coming all the way to the head office though they work at a different branch, just to see him.
"I have always been inspired by Kunieda-san's efforts and sportsmanship. Meeting him today will be a memory of a lifetime."
The connection between Kunieda, wheelchair tennis, and NEC is a long and deep one. Kunieda was first introduced to wheelchair tennis at the age of 11, and made his tour debut in 2001 at the age of 17. In 2009, he declared that he wanted to become a professional player, which was rare for a para-athlete at that time. Since then, he has won 28 major singles and 22 doubles championships in the four Grand Slams for men's wheelchair tennis. "I have always wanted people to see wheelchair tennis as a sport," said Kunieda.
NEC has supported wheelchair tennis for more than 30 years, and since 1994 has sponsored the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters, which is equivalent to the world championships. Kunieda has won in this tournament three times. On the day he visited NEC to report his retirement, he said, "since the beginning of my tour, NEC's banner was always displayed at every tournament. While traveling overseas, seeing the NEC logo at the tournaments had kept me going."
"Creating an environment where everyone can dream and take on challenges"
Energy and inspiration for Kunieda himself
In 2020, NEC signed a partnership agreement with Kunieda to "take on the challenge" together to support the activities of professional athletes. The following year, Kunieda won his third gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as an NEC athlete. For Kunieda, the 2020 Games was the "culmination" of his sports career.
In August 2022, the "NEC + CHALLENGE PROJECT" was launched. This is a joint project by NEC, Kunieda, Yuto Horigome (skateboarding), Miho Nonaka (sport climbing), and Maya Nakanishi (track and field) aimed at contributing to the creation of an environment where everyone can embrace their dreams and take on challenges through sports. At the inaugural press conference of the project, Kunieda said, "I want to make wheelchair tennis more widely known. I hope that sports can inspire hope among many people," expressing his enthusiasm about the sport.
On November 12, the first event of the project was held at the Yoshida Memorial Tennis Training Center (Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture), where Kunieda's love affair with wheelchair tennis began. As a special lecturer, Kunieda enthusiastically taught the children who were trying their hand (and body) at wheelchair tennis. More than being able to encourage the children, Kunieda said, "I myself was energized by how everyone gave their best to learn."
Even after retiring, Kunieda hopes "to continue to find something that I can be passionate about." Speaking about the NEC + CHALLENGE PROJECT, he said that it's "an initiative that stimulates me and broadens my horizons." He is confident that he can gain something of value in his life from it, going forward.
More than 200 messages of support and encouragement to continue taking on challenges
NEC Group employees, whose common Purpose is to realize a sustainable society where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential, are immensely proud and encouraged to support Kunieda's endeavors and to be able to take on challenges together with him.
Before Kunieda came to the head office, we solicited messages on our internal site; and within a very short period of time, we received more than 200 messages of support.
── "The achievement of building the foundation not only for wheelchair tennis but also for para-sports as a whole is truly commendable! Thank you very much for all you hard work. " (President Takayuki Morita)
── "I am very proud to have Kunieda-san as an NEC athlete; when I'm tired from my work, I read articles about Kunieda-san's achievements, and it gave me energy. "
── "I want to challenge myself in my work and life while pushing myself to be the "best" version of myself. "
── "I think Kunieda-san was one of the major reasons why the public perception of para-sports changed from being a welfare activity to a professional sport. I will continue to support him. "
── "The sticker saying "I am unbeatable" on his racket on display reminds me of the importance of hard work and a strong sense of faith in oneself in times of hardship. "
Kunieda read through each of these messages—sometimes with a serious look on his face and at other times with a smile. "Wow... I did not expect to receive all these warm messages of support... I really appreciate them ..."
In his greetings to NEC Group employees, Kunieda expressed his gratitude saying, "Thank you very much for your unwavering support!" He concluded by saying, "Let's continue to move forward together." Kunieda, along with the NEC Group, will continue to take on the challenges that lie ahead.