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Staying Alive

Photography by Jason Halayko

Mikito Fujimoto is running for his life—literally.

The taxi driver from Japan had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The prognosis was bleak: his doctor didn't know if Mikito would survive.

Mikito had been a heavy drinker, and he was in constant pain. And he spent all day sitting in his taxi, shuttling people to and fro – hardly a healthy lifestyle.

Mikito went to support groups for his condition, but they weren't enough. So he looked around for something that would get him out of bed in the morning – something that would help him fight cancer with health.

Mikito found a local swimming club with a simple motto: “anyone can swim 25 meters.” He wasn't sure he could do even that, but he gave it a try. Pretty soon, he was swimming multiple times a week, surpassing his own expectations. This led him to create a motto of his own:

"Moving your body is a sign you’re alive," he says. "Some days, moving is hard. But the alternative is harder.”

Pretty soon, someone from the swimming club invited Mikito to compete with them in a triathlon. He was intimidated and had no idea if his body could handle it, but he stuck to his motto and decided to keep on moving. He started cycling and running to prepare, and in May he completed the Yokohama Triathlon. In just a few short months, he'd gone from someone who barely exercised at all to someone who raced alongside trained athletes.

Mikito was ecstatic. He had done something he never thought was possible. But he also noticed another shift: for the first time in a while, he felt hopeful. He believed in the possibility of change.

“We all face difficulties," he says. "But resilience is the ability to get back on your feet. To take action. Nothing changes if you don’t take action, even if it’s just a small step.”

Yet Mikito seems to move only in leaps and bounds. As soon as he finished his first triathlon, he wanted another challenge – another opportunity to move and prove himself. So he signed up for the Marathon des Sables.

The race is no joke – it’s one of the toughest foot races on Earth. Mikito intends to run it, and he intends to finish. But for him, racing isn't about winning, finishing or even training. It's about living.

“It’s not just about training for a race. It’s about balancing my life. There’s just a feeling of wanting to move your body.”

Though his cancer is in remission, Mikito doesn’t take his ability to exercise for granted. He plans on moving his body as much as he can, for as long as he's able. And he shows no sign of stopping. The motivation is simple.

"My life is brighter now," he says.