Japanese free climber Koichiro Kobayashi, has tipped Kenya to dominate in the sport if the current talent will be nurtured and those interested in it accorded the necessary financial aid to advance.
Kobayashi, a three-time world champion in the sport, is currently teaching free climbing to visually impaired children in Kenya, a programme which he is working with the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust at Blue Sky Indoor rock climbing and Bouldering Gym in Nairobi.
“I have worked with some brilliant talents at the gym and I can authoritatively say that Kenya has huge potential to prosper in free climbing. You have the right structures for indoor training and with more facilities like what Blue Sky has, the sport will grow,” Kobayashi who has climbed to the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro said. Born in Tokyo 50 years ago, Kobayashi started free climbing at the age of 16.
At 28 years, he developed an inherited, degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa which would eventually leave him blind. He stopped climbing after the diagnosis but was eventually convinced to go back to the sport at 36 years by American blind climber Erik Weihenmayer.
At 37, he established a Tokyo-based non-profit organization called NPO Monkey and has since continued to help others break down barriers in their own life with the organisation, whose mission is empowering the visually impaired and all others through free climbing. “Climbing gave me confidence and the will to believe in possibility.
I thought I would lead a meaningless life after I went blind but this sport gave my life a meaning,” he said. As he, alongside other climbers push for the sport to be included in the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France, he hopes that Kenya will have a representative in the sport.