It all started from skiing. Urged by my friends at Chuo University Minamidaira Dormitory (located in Hino City, Tokyo) Taro Shirato began seriously training in cycling, refined his swimming technique and started competing in triathlons. In addition to presiding over a business for the growth and spread of the sport, Shirato (48) is still a top triathlon competitor even today.
Beginning in Chuo University Ski Club
Around the time he began to attend the ski club after entering Chuo University
I entered Chuo University after graduating from Doshisha Kori Senior High School in Neyagawa City, Osaka. While in high school, I had the good fortune of meeting members of the Chuo University Ski Club at a ski resort in Niigata Prefecture. I was impressed by the Chuo students and decided to enter Chuo University. My dream was to refine my skiing skills while at university and win the intercollegiate championships. However, the people around me had different ideas. Not many high schools students from the Kansai region enter universities in Tokyo. Even more, the majority of students at my high school entered Doshisha University. As such, my parents were not happy about my plan to enter Chuo University.
Although I had won many cross-country skiing and nordic combined skiing tournaments in the Osaka and Kinki regions, I was a minor athlete at the university level. The club was filled with skiers from Hokkaido, Aomori, Akita, Nagano and other regions where winter sports are highly popular.
Learning patience through dorm life
I was overwhelmed after entering Chuo University. There were many differences in daily customs and local dialect, and I really struggled with practice, daily life and classes.
At the Minamidaira dorm, I was together with older students 24 hours a day. That may be normal dormitory life, but it was somewhat oppressive for a high school student who felt relaxed until just a short while ago. Reflecting back, it took a lot of patience and endurance.
I was saved by other first-year dormitory students who competed in other sports such as cycling, kendo, judo, swimming, nippon kenpo, and cheerleading. No matter what the sport, first-year students all face the same challenges. I often talked with other first-year students while riding the school bus which took us to the university from our dorm. Although it was just casual conversation, I was reassured by interacting with other students who were working hard like myself while learning to be patient. We would relieve stress by complaining to each other, and it gave me renewed energy to keep pressing forward. I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in a dorm filled only with students from the ski club. Without them, I might have even dropped out.
The ski club activity started in November, and we continued our activity until around May of the following year. From June, there isn’t snow left anywhere in Japan, so athletes spent their days running on the track and training on land. I often felt my motivation decreasing from the accumulation of such monotonous training.
Minamidaira has everything
One day, I was relaxing in the dormitory lounge with a good friend of mine from the cycling club.
“If you’re good at swimming, why don’t you try triathlon,” he recommended. “I’m sure you’d be good at it.”
“But I don’t have a bicycle.” I replied.
A few days later, a friend of mine from the swimming club told me the days when the pool was open to general students. I immediately started practicing swimming. I then participated in the All Japan 2nd on-the-snow Triathlon Competition (February 15, 1987) with hopes of winning the bicycle offered as the top prize. I ended up winning the triathlon, and finally won the bicycle which I had desired for so long. My friends from the cycling club tuned my new bicycle. They also gave me tools and cycling gear needed for competitive cycling. Eventually, I even got the permission to participate in cycling practices. I was fortunate for having such abundant facility which truly gave me the opportunity to try anything.
I had experience with long-distance running in high school when I had been encouraged into running an Ekiden (long-distance relay race on the road). On top of that, I had trained to run during ski club practices.
Swimming, cycling and marathon running. Thanks to each of my friends helping in their own unique way, I was prepared to compete in triathlons. I am so grateful to the Minamidaira dorm. It was a wonderful and irreplaceable environment.
The gathering of athletes from different sports truly fosters personal growth. I hope that Chuo University will continue to nurture and provide a special experience for athletes at the Minamidaira dorm.
Currently, my work is performed in a competitive society. A broad perspective is required to ensure the continued survival of the company. Interacting with people from other industries is an outstanding opportunity—I learned this essential lesson from Minamidaira.
Changing paths after teaching practice
Shirato who was running at full speed at Ironman World Championship (Photograph in a competition offered by Taro Shirato)
I fell in love with cycling. What had once been only a part of training during the ski offseason was now totally different. Cycling became my passion. Was practice of skiing in the winter for that of cycling in the summer? Or, was the summer for the winter? I was riding constantly for about half of the year.
Of course, I also put a lot of effort into skiing. Although I never fulfilled my original dream of winning the intercollegiate championships, I was satisfied with my effort and performance in my third and fourth years.
I had wanted to work in education after graduating from university, so I returned to my alma mater in Osaka for teaching practice. I sought to become a social studies teacher. In addition to my work in the classroom, I also taught skiing as an afterschool activity. The experience taught me that I was best suited to physical education and caused me to change my career path. Although I searched all the curriculums at Chuo University, I couldn’t find ways to become a physical education instructor.
Based on consultation with those around me, I decided to transfer to Nippon Sport Science University (NSSU) after graduating from the Chuo University Faculty of Commerce in 1989. I spent three years studying at NSSU. During that time, I focused on competing in triathlons.
During my second year at NSSU, I became the top-ranked triathlete in Japan. I turned pro during my third year. Triathlons became the most important part of my life. In April 1992, I entered the graduate school at NSSU, where I majored in exercise prescription. In Triathlon, I represented Japan at the ITU World Triathlon for six consecutive years. From 1992, I became the first Japanese athlete to compete in the World Cup Series, traveling throughout the world for races.
Everything has a meaning
Although I was expected to study at Doshisha University, I entered Chuo University. I moved from the ski club, to cycling, swimming, and finally triathlons. I changed my teaching aspirations from social studies to physical education. Still, every twist and turn had an important meaning in my life. Through each experience, I found my next step and was able to go forward.
I hope that students at Chuo will try many different things too. Even if the results are not what you expected, stay hungry and try again. There is nothing wrong with failure—especially while you are still young. Time at university should be spent taking on challenges. There is nothing more wasteful than fearing failure and locking yourself into a single path while still young. Remember to always embrace new challenges.