Korrin Barrett Meets Hiromi Tatsumi
Two amazing individuals come together to discuss how they have both overcome adversity and how they continue to make the most out of life!
Korrin Barrett traveled all the way from Australia looking for a snow experience. While that might seem like a normal story, for Korrin it is so much more. Five years ago Korrin went from being healthy and active to struggling for her life in the blink of an eye. What started as a perforated bowel suddenly became life threatening due to medical complications and left Korrin in a medically induced coma for nine days and in the ICU for over four weeks. Korrin spent 233 days in hospital and during this time, she underwent over 25 operations during which both of her feet, her right hand, and most of her left hand were amputated to save her life.
Despite all of this Korrin has never given up on life. Through rehabilitation and hard work, she has begun walking, swimming, and traveling. Her adventures brought her here to Niseko, where she stumbled across the story of Hiromi Tatsumi, who like her had a range of challenges to face and overcome.
Hiromi Tatsumi, wasn't always confined to a wheelchair. Born in Tokushima Prefecture, the amazing Niseko powder snow was what brought him to Hokkaido where he fell in love with snowboarding. He was an active and daring snowboarder, but it was the sport he loved which forever altered his life. Back in March of 2008, Hiromi missed the landing while performing a trick. The missed landing resulted in a spinal fracture and left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Like Korrin, Hiromi couldn't give up on all of his passions and pursuits from before the accident. He too set forth to overcome the challenges that were set in front of him and to find ways in which he could continue being active. His biggest passion was being on the slopes and despite being unable to use his legs, Hiromi couldn't give up on shredding powder snow and has now gained significant global recognition in a number of sports within the international disabled sports circuit.
Korrin and Hiromi's Meeting
Korrin initially booked her trip to Niseko for a friends' birthday and so that her partner Craig could finally get a chance to snowboard. She reached out to the Ki Niseko Concierge Team after confirming her reservation at the hotel and indicated that she was keen to look into chair skiing or chair boarding as she also wanted to have a snow experience of some kind. It just so happened that one of the staff had seen a poster of Hiromi from last winter season and it was there that their meeting began. As the emails were sent back and forth, we got a call from Ki Niseko asking if we would be interested in meeting Korrin and Hiromi and helping to facilitate their meeting and here we are!
Korrin: I was looking at your Facebook this morning and at your new snowboard. It was very impressive! Have you been chair skiing for a long time?
Hiromi: I've been chair skiing for about eight years now. In 2008, I broke my back in a snowboarding accident.
Korrin: Yes, I read up on your story and was very impressed with how you recovered. I myself was very sick and went to hospital in 2012. I was misdiagnosed, which led to medical complications and had to be put into a coma. Due to the sepsis which set in and being on ECMO my limbs became necrotic and had to be amputated. I spent about 33 weeks in the hospital at that time. But even so, despite all of that, so many good and amazing things have happened to me. In some ways I almost feel like my life is better now.
Hiromi: (laughing) Me too!
Korrin: Had you always been a skier before the accident?
Hiromi: Of course! I love snow, I love rivers, and I love racing!
Korrin: (chuckling) Very sporty! So I understand that you represent Japan in international sport competitions? Do you have anything coming up soon?
Hiromi: Oh, yes! Do you know flatwater racing? It is a race along smooth water in a long-style canoe. I have represented Japan twice in world cup events for the flatwater 200 meter. I actually have a training session and time trial coming up this weekend in southern Japan. If I pass that then I will be able to represent Japan once again. When I am up here I am able to chair ski because of the snow and ice, but it makes training for flatwater impossible. As a result, I need to travel south in order to practice and with both sports I am travelling all the time.
Korrin: Oh wow you seem to be very busy! But at least you are having a lot of fun! I have never skied before. I am originally from New Zealand, but now live in Australia. When I was growing up in New Zealand I always wanted to go skiing, but never did. I am hoping that one day I might be able to try chair-skiing, but I have to be careful at the moment with my legs. I had surgery on my legs last year, so I can't do anything of high impact.
Korrin: The top part of the prosthetic is implanted into directly my bone. I used to have a different type of prosthetic before with a liner and socket but wasn't able to put them on without assistance so I recently had it changed to this model.
Hiromi: Would you be able to ski with your new prosthetic legs? Do you think that they wouldn't be strong enough for skiing?
Korrin: Probably not. This model of prosthetic isn't meant to handle high impact. I don't think I could ski standing, but perhaps I could handle chair skiing.
Hiromi: I feel like I remember seeing one of the athletes on a Canadian team who had both of their legs amputated. I think they might have been snowboarding, if I can recall correctly. You might need a different prosthetic to do it, but it might actually be easier than chair skiing. When you chair ski, you have to use two outriggers. You hold them with your hands and they help you to turn and keep your balance. Because your hands have been affected, this might be a bit tricky without specialized equipment.
Korrin: I only just had the operation in July last year, but I have heard that there are some others who have had this operation and they had special sockets prepared to allow them to engage in certain types of sports safely, so it may just be a possibility in the future!
Hiromi: If that were the case you would definitely be able to ski or snowboard! You don't need to use the poles for skiing and you don't have to hold anything for snowboarding so it might be possible to do either or both!
Korrin: Do you have any upcoming ski competitions?
Hiromi: I usually go to Oregon, USA for the Dirksen Derby every year. This year the event didn't happen, but I am hoping to go next year. It's a charity tournament run to benefit Tyler Eklund, who injured himself in 2007 and was paralyzed from the neck down. He was an up-and-coming star and it ended his career in professional snowboarding. I entered two years ago and claimed first-place for my category that year!
Korrin: Oh wow! Was that for chair-skiing or chair-snowboarding? I understand that you do both. Which would you say is easier by the way?
Hiromi: I was chair snow-boarding at the Dirksen Derby. I guess chair boarding is a bit harder. The board is wider and that makes it tougher to turn as you are relying on your core strength to move everything.
When I first was injured, I started out with chair-skiing. But as I was a snowboarder originally, I always kept coming back to this image of snowboard lines through the powder. I guess that is what made me shift from chair-skiing to chair-snowboarding.
(Shows a photo from the Dirksen Derby) Here's are a few photos from the derby. It's a banked slalom course.
Korrin: Oh wait, so there's someone behind with a rope who helps you go through the course? That's what I want to do! Do they do that sort of thing in this area?
Hiromi: There are a few places not far from Niseko that have support for those looking to chair-ski and who need assistance learning and finding equipment. It might be tough to do it last minute, as you would typically need to make a reservation well in advance. One of the biggest challenges will be equipment sizes. The specialized equipment is pretty expensive and as such they will only have a limited range, typically it will be quite small as it is aimed for either children or Japanese people who tend to be a bit smaller in stature.
Korrin: (laughing) Well, we can just take my legs off and make me shorter!
Korrin: Some of the most extreme things I have done are walking long distance charity walks, sky diving, bungee jumping, and swimming with the sharks!
Hiromi: Eh! In a cage with the sharks?
Korrin: No, I was out in a tank with them. It was okay though, Craig likes to joke saying that there isn't anything left for sharks to go after!
Hiromi: (laughing) No way! Oooh, I think I would be okay with out that last one! The bungee jumping, did you do that after your operations?
Korrin: Yes, all of those were activities I have done since I lost my arms and legs. I had to wear a special body harness for the bungee jumping, we couldn't attach the harness to my legs or else I would have kept going down and my legs would have gone up! When I was swimming, I just used a snorkel and flippers and was fine.
Hiromi and Korrin chatted about other activities that are great here in and around Niseko, both on and off the slopes, and then stepped outside to take a look at the gear that Hiromi uses when he hits the slopes.
He has a Gentemstick snowboard which he has customized so that he can fit it to his bucket-chair. He has a pair of outriggers that are like little skis at the end of a handheld pole. They flip around and have a pick-like grip to help with getting into position to ride the lift up or getting out of a spot when you are stuck. The chair itself is fitted so it's not exactly the kind of thing that anyone can just hope into. His chair has a special spring to help with impact and shock absorption and also can sit up or down for when he is riding the lift up.
We were happy to be able to put Korrin and Hiromi in touch and to help with looking into what was available in the area, unfortunately, the timing was a bit tricky as Hiromi had predicted. We were able to get in touch with a resort that could assist, however they had just closed for the season. Sadly, not every resort stays open as long as Niseko! That said, we heard from Korrin that she had managed to work out a few interesting day trips and said that she will be looking into trying out skiing next time she is in town! Even if she didn't get to ski this time around, she did enjoy her time here in Niseko and will surely come back again one day!