28 03 2008

Going the Distance to Help People With Disabilities

By Daryl Hannah.

March 27, 2008


Steve Hanamura has never let obstacles get in the way of being successful. Born to Japanese immigrants during World War II, a time “when the world was in such turmoil,” the 64-year-old California native says his family, like other Japanese immigrants, faced severe hardships and discrimination. 

“My parents were interned [in a camp] in Arizona during World War II. There was so much tension during this time that a doctor didn’t want to work on a Japanese woman after midnight,” he recalls. But that didn’t stop Hanamura from becoming an author and a sought-after speaker on leadership and diversity issues, nor did it stop him from founding his own business, Hanamura Consulting.

And neither did being born blind. He hasn’t let his disability get in the way of becoming a competitive long-distance runner.

Hanamaura began running at the age of 34, holding on to the arm of a sighted friend who ran with him. Although his first race was a “mere” five miles, it reintroduced him to the world of sports he loved as a kid.   

“Athletics was always important to me. But when I got older I got ‘X-ed’ out of sports because they didn’t have programs for blind children,” says Hanamura. “So when I began running again, it was like, ‘I’m back!'”  

Now Hanamura runs in the longest major relay race in North America, the 197-mile Hood to Coast Relay, which extends from the top of Oregon’s Mount Hood to the shores of the Pacific in Seaside, Ore. A thousand sponsored teams, each made up of 12 people, run the grueling relay every August. A sighted runner guides Hanamura with his voice and a bungee cord.

“My team has 13 runners because I use the help of a sighted runner. But what’s so beautiful about my team is that I am the only person with a disability and we have four generations, three people in their 60s, but we are all included and all work together.”

This year, Hanamura plans to film the race and use it as a training tool to demonstrate the connection between leadership, diversity and disability.

“The documentary will chronicle how people work through adversity and how to meet the needs of each individual,” says Hanamura. “I also want to show the underpinnings of being a person with a disability yet being included.”

Hanamura, together with The Oregon Business Leadership Network, an organization that promotes understanding and awareness of disability issues in the workplace, is trying to raise $35,000 to fund the documentary and is accepting donations. To donate, call (503) 297-8658.

Since 1995, Hanamura has sponsored his own team, which now includes a vice president from the Ghirardelli Chocolate Co., an accountant, two nurses, and even his own dentist. 

Hanamura admits that age has slowed him down–he now runs a mile in nine minutes.  But he plans to keep running the relay and recruiting new team members.




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