Michael Cox



‘I want to be independent’: Joe Fujii back at racetrack for first time since fall

Joe Fujii was back at the races on Sunday for the first time since a life-changing accident in April and continues to work hard at his rehabilitation.

True to form, when Joe Fujii left hospital to return home for the first time since suffering catastrophic injuries in an April race fall, he took it as a challenge: to test his level of independence, he would make the five-hour cross-country trip to Kyoto alone, using public transport. 

Fujii suffered a dislocated T4 vertebrae in the accident and has not been able to walk without assistance since. He hadn’t been outside of a hospital without assistance, let alone navigated Tokyo’s complex and intense train system in a wheelchair, but it is typical of his attitude to life that he took the solo trip to Kyoto as an opportunity, not an obstacle. 

“It was a good experience,” he told Asian Racing Report. “I have been stuck in a hospital for so long, so it gave me great confidence to go out. During the journey a lot of train staff came to help me, but I felt like I was a kid going out on his own for the first time.

“It was more difficult than I thought, carrying my bags in the wheelchair, and Japan’s public transport can be difficult for anybody. It wasn’t an easy trip, but I want to be independent, I don’t want people to have to help me all of the time.” 

That isn’t to say Fujii doesn’t have support, in fact he has been overwhelmed by the response from the racing community. When he arrived at Kyoto station via bullet train he was greeted by jockeys Mirco and Cristian Demuro, and they drove to the nearby Ritto Training Centre with friends. 


Jockeys Mirco and Cristian Demuro have been among those to show their support for Fujii. (Photo supplied)

“My family were there waiting, and ten jockeys came to meet me that day,” he said. “I never knew that they would come and join me. Because of the Coronavirus restrictions in the hospital I couldn’t meet people so easily. So it was great to be able to meet them.”

Fujii will move back to his family home with wife Saori, and three children – aged 10, seven and two – in the new year but until then he is transitioning to independent life at his parents’ home. 

Staying in his childhood bedroom, there is a still 20-plus year-old poster on the wall of his idol Darren Beadman, who is one of the many jockeys to send messages of support to Fujii via social media. 

Fujii continues to work hard at his physical rehabilitation and regularly undergoes physio treatment. 

“Things haven’t changed for my rehab, four times per week,” he said. “I am getting used to my new environment. Hospital is easy, the nurse is always there to help, this is the new challenge.” 

As far as outlook on his recovery goes Fujii remains positive but the key for him is progress, however slow. 

“Unfortunately my situation hasn’t changed,” he said. “It is hard to make goals like walking on my own. It is a slow progress, what I can say is that I will be going to Ritto in March and start living with my wife and kids.” 

The former road cycling enthusiast is determined to stay physically active and is working on making his upper body as strong as possible through exercise, not just to help in his quest for independence, but to maintain his mental health. 

“I need to build up my muscles in my upper body but it is just mainly for my health, if you stay in your bed all day your brain doesn’t work.” 

One of the jockeys there to greet Fujii at Ritto after he left hospital for the first time was his neighbour in Ritto, jumps jockey Takaya Ueno. On Sunday Fujii made his first trip back to the racecourse for Ueno’s retirement ceremony at Hanshin. 

Joe Fujii honours Takaya Ueno at Hanshin on Sunday. (Photo supplied)

“It was my first time back since the fall and I loved the racing atmosphere,” he said. “I was so honored to give flowers to jockey Ueno’s ceremony, nearly all jockeys who rode at Hanshin attended the ceremony and that showed he was loved by everyone.”

Hopefully for the sport, Fujii’s return to the racetrack is a sign that he will be an active part of the racing community for years to come.



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