When it comes to repairing Paralympic athletes' specialist equipment, technicians experiment and update with the latest technologies on the spot, and their work can often be the difference between a competitor's success or failure.
Hiroki Nakajima, one of two Japanese technicians who worked on athletes' wheelchairs and prosthetics during the Pyeongchang Winter Games, was inspired as a child by an American woman who turned a life-changing tragedy into a thriving wheelchair business.
Now armed with knowledge about the technology that can enhance the lives of disabled athletes and people, generally, Nakajima has his eyes set on his fifth Paralympic Games in 2020 where he hopes to yet again help participants achieve their dreams.
"Every repair is important, and no repair comes without pressure. But there's something special about working on the equipment of athletes. It's challenging," the 43-year-old wheelchair specialist said in a recent interview with Kyodo News. "It gives me joy whenever the athletes are happy with the repairs, if they can compete with their mind at ease, they can deliver their best results."
In Pyeongchang, there was a repair center and several satellite booths located near competition venues operated by Ottobock, a world-leading manufacturer of wheelchairs and artificial limbs. The German company has been sending repair specialists to the Paralympics since the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul and is expected to do the same in Tokyo in just over two years' time.
It began with four technicians in South Korea in 1988. Thirty years later in the same country, a group of 23 specialists from nine countries carried out a total of 410 repairs. They handle many requests from athletes, and because the repair service is free, competitors are always keen to use their skills.
Nakajima worked at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, in London in 2012 and at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
"In a way, the Paralympics are a place to experiment with new possibilities, so there's a lot we have to adjust to in terms of repair," he said. "The difficult thing about this job is we have to come up with the best way to repair something instantly. But that's also the fun part of our job and what we're good at."
In Pyeongchang, a French skier asked that the wheels of his chair be replaced so he could navigate on the snow without slipping. A group of Japanese para ice hockey players had their footwear mended.
A Croatian skier brought an ill-fitting sit-ski into the repair center. With the tools on hand, the technicians disassembled parts of the ski, fixed it and got him out in time to compete.
Nakajima says the workload at the Summer Games, however, is beyond comparison. During the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, 100 technicians and staff made more than 2,400 repairs before and during the 12-day Paralympics.
"Repairs come in all day during the Summer Games, and we are all trying hard to keep up," Nakajima said.
In addition to a larger number of athletes and events, Summer Games sports tend to be more punishing on the athletes' equipment compared to the winter events, according to Nakajima. Athletes intentionally collide or fall in team sports like wheelchair basketball and rugby, resulting in the need for many repairs.
He expects the Tokyo Paralympics will be just as hectic, if not more. Although he has not officially been appointed to a position, he is wasting no time in preparing to stay ahead of the curve.
"Every wheelchair manufacturer is working really hard to improve their products. We can't offer our best service unless we keep up on the latest information," Nakajima said.
"A Toyota engineer won't be blamed for not knowing how to fix a Nissan. But that doesn't apply to the Paralympics," he said. "We have to know about all manufacturers -- not just Ottobock -- and be able to fix all kinds of products."
If selected to work in 2020, Nakajima will have more experience than many other engineers, so he expects to assume more responsibilities. He also hopes to help foreign technicians get acclimated to Japan.
Nakajima works in sales at the Tokyo branch of Ottobock and visits retail stores and hospitals around the country. He joined the company in 2001, but the idea of working in the industry came to him when he was growing up in Osaka.
His interest grew when, as an elementary school student, he watched a documentary about Paralympic sport and wheelchair technology campaigner Marilyn Hamilton.
Hamilton, now a successful entrepreneur, was injured and left a paraplegic after a hang-gliding accident in 1978. She struggled to adjust to her cumbersome wheelchair but turned her situation around by creating a lightweight, colorful and high-performance chair of her own, which she went on to develop, manufacture and sell.
"I was shocked as a kid," Nakajima said. "She might've been overwhelmed by her circumstances, but a small change was just enough to make someone very happy. I was amazed."
He studied mechanical engineering at a university in Tokyo and was surprised that the technology he had been studying had not transferred to wheelchairs, especially when he saw the quality of chairs being used.
"When I saw them, I was shocked like 'Is this the level of Japanese wheelchairs?' They were really behind the times," he said. "The technology I was studying was so different from the level of equipment disabled people were using. I couldn't believe it."
That was when Nakajima's mission to make the lives of wheelchair users better started to take shape.
"The things we (able-bodied people) use were improving every day. New, stylish, cool products hit the market constantly, but I couldn't see that coming from the (mobility) industry at that time," he said. "They were made in a way so they won't stand out. Like they were something that should be hidden from view."
On the other hand, he saw that foreign manufacturers were focused on giving confidence and enjoyment to their users by making innovative, design-oriented products. This different approach is what attracted him to Ottobock.
The difference between Japanese and foreign products has diminished in the past 20 years, he says, with Japanese manufacturers putting their own spice on products to make them more user-friendly. He hopes this momentum continues and grows further.
"I feel like wheelchairs are making a big shift from something that people are forced to use, to a tool that enables people to live a full life. Wheelchair users used to be pitied," Nakajima said.
"There may even be a day when wheelchairs become something that people want to use as a fashion statement, just like glasses."
For Nakajima, the Paralympics have more value than simply being disabled sports' showpiece event.
"I think one of the missions of the games is to improve the perception of people with wheelchairs," he said. "It's great that my repairs contributed to solving some of the problems the athletes are facing. The Paralympics are where athletes gun for a better life, so it's a real honor and a reward to be able to support them."