A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Chuck Aoki is a two-time Paralympian, as well as a two-time medalist at the Paralympics. He helped Team USA's wheelchair rugby team win a bronze medal in 2012, as well as a silver medal in 2016. He was also named Athlete of the Year by the United States Quad Rugby Association in 2011.
Get to know more about Aoki ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics.
Deciding Rugby Is for Him
Aoki was born in Minneapolis with hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy (HSAN), a rare genetic disorder that inhibits feeling in the hands and feet.
"As a young kid, I was pretty much like every other kid. I played baseball, ran around with my friends, and generally seemed pretty normal. Until one day, after my mom took me to the doctor because of some swelling she found odd in my knee, they discovered I had broken my femur at age six. Not only did I break it, but I had walked on it for six weeks, since I could not feel it. This injury was a precursor to my next six years, which saw me try to walk, tear a ligament, be sidelined again, then break something else. This would continue until I was 12, when I decided along with my doctor, that I would need to use a wheelchair full time."
Aoki began playing wheelchair basketball when he was 7, but he switched to wheelchair rugby when he was a 15-year-old student at Minneapolis's Southwest High School after seeing the 2005 documentary "Murderball". The critically acclaimed film chronicled the U.S. quadriplegic rugby team's journey to the 2004 Athens Paralympics, while capturing the unforgiving and unrelenting physicality of the sport. In his first ever game, a burly opponent barreled into the slight Aoki, knocking him into nearby bleachers and flipping him onto his head.
"I decided it was the sport for me," Aoki said.
Meet Aoki's Family
Aoki lauds his parents for their unconditional support and encouragement, particularly during difficult times. His Father's family is from Japan. His great-grandparents immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, and his great-grandparents and grandparents were all placed in World War II internment camps in the United States. After his family was released, his grandfather went on to serve in the U.S. Army.
His first name is technically "Charles" but became "Chuck" when he was 6 years old and a doctor asked him for his name. He blurted out "Chuck" even though he said he had never been called that before. His mother was stunned, and amused, but the name stuck. He has three siblings.
Aoki's Favorite Workout
"I love going for long distance pushes, 10k or so, just enjoying the flow," he said. "I also compete with one of my teammates to try and do 100 pushups in less than three minutes, and to see who can do it faster."
Aoki's Biggest Obstacle
"Probably the fact that there is only a handful of people in the world with my disability, meaning that learning how to manage my health is a never-ending challenge, particularly when competing at the highest level. There is no 'road map' for my condition, which means there's a lot of mistakes, which can lead to growth and learning, but is still hard."