Japanese swimmer unabashed about her shorter hairstyle, aims to inspire global fight vs COVID-19
This is me.
That was the message from embattled Japanese swimmer Ikee Rikako, who unveiled a brand new look and opened up about her fight with leukemia on Monday (18 May).
Showing her short hair for the first time to the public since being diagnosed with the disease in February 2019, Ikee spoke from the well of her heart during a video and text message in collaboration with Olympic World Partner SK-II.
Gone may have been the long hair, but the trademark smile still shines - more radiant than ever, perhaps.
"Today for the first time, I'm showing everyone the way I look right now", the 19-year-old said, donning a look almost more fitting of the catwalk than the pool. "To me, it's a miracle I'm alive. Just being here is a miracle in itself.
"Not having any hair isn't something to be embarrassed about. Rather, I'm proud of my hair as it is. I'm proud of who I am. I wanted to be myself". - Ikee Rikako.
"As a swimmer, I don't wear makeup and there's no hiding your muscles in the pool. Now I just present myself as I am".
Ikee was released from hospital in December after 10 months of treatment. The 2018 Asian Games MVP resumed training in February and had a dip in the pool on 17 March - her first swim in 406 days.
"I think when I get back in the pool, my true feelings will burst out", Ikee said. "I've gotten over the hardest part and I'm on the road to recovery".
But as she began getting her groove back, the coronavirus pandemic roared around the world, even forcing the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games - where Ikee had been tipped to become a global star before cancer struck.
Ikee was always a beacon of positivity but seems stronger than ever now, having come out ahead in the fight of her life.
The Tokyo native hopes the trying journey she's led - and will continue to lead as she aims for Paris 2024 - can help inspire athletes who have had to regroup for the Games postponed to 2021 as well as those leading the battle against COVID-19
"A year ago, I swore that I would not be beaten in this fight against myself", she said. "Thanks to my family and friends, and everyone else who supported me, I managed to overcome the illness.
"Currently, the entire world is going through tough, uncertain times. I hope this message can serve as some inspiration not just to my fellow athletes but also to anyone going up against difficulty".
"We are not alone. I hope the day when we do not have to live without fear arrives soon. There is an exit to every tunnel. We have to get through this, hand in hand".
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach sent a message of encouragement to Ikee. "Keep dreaming the dream @rikakoikee. The whole Olympic Community is behind you," the German said via Twitter on Friday.