Gold Medal In Beating Cancer: Swimmer Survives Leukemia To Qualify For Olympics

japanese swimmer with leukemia
ABC News

Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee earned a spot on the host country’s team for the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo. It’s all the more remarkable given she had to fight a foe outside of the pool—leukemia.

Ikee was diagnosed with the disease in February 2019, according to the Japan Times. But then, as it went on to report, “She stunned the world by winning all four events she entered at Japan’s eight-day national championships that wrapped up last Saturday in Tokyo. She captured the 50— and 100-meter in both butterfly and freestyles to earn spots on two Olympic relay teams.”

“I’ll give my best to prove to the world that Rikako Ikee is back,” she said during a Nihon University event commemorating her wins.

Cancer Health noted she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, which led to a 10-month hospitalization, where she was treated with a brief run of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant.

The article noted, “In what was likely a show of support for the popular young athlete, the number of people in Japan who registered as bone marrow donors in February 2019 hit a record monthly high.”

“Soon after she was discharged from the hospital, Ikee resumed her training, calling her survival ‘a miracle,'” the article continued. “But she was discouraged by her reduction in physical fitness and pessimistic about her chances of competing in the 2021 Olympics.” She told a Japanese publication at the time, Kyodo News, “I think my swimming ability has returned to about the level in my first or second year of junior high school.”

But she was able to work herself back into Olympian form, after initially expecting she might have to look to the next Olympics in 2024.

“I’m eager to know how much I can cut off my times,” she said of where she’s at now. “I want to swim races where I dominate the field, because I’m confident I can go faster.”


Written by Phil West