Rikako Ikee says cancer treatment "proceeding smoothly" in emotional statement

Six-time Asian Games swimming champion launches new website, thanks fans for support and expresses hope for the future as she continues to fight leukaemia.

Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee says in an emotional statement her cancer treatment is "proceeding smoothly".

The 18-year-old was expected to be one of the stars at her home Olympic Games next year, but her participation at Tokyo 2020 was thrown into doubt when she was forced to return home early from a training camp in Australia after falling ill in February 2019.

Now, three months after being diagnosed with leukaemia, Ikee has launched a new website on which she included a hand-written note with an update on her treatment.

Rikako Ikee celebrates victory in the 50m freestyle for her sixth title at the Asian Games in Jakarta
Rikako Ikee celebrates victory in the 50m freestyle for her sixth title at the Asian Games in JakartaRikako Ikee celebrates victory in the 50m freestyle for her sixth title at the Asian Games in Jakarta

Life away from the pool

In her statement, which was also posted in English, Ikee admitted being away from the pool has allowed her to start experiencing other things in life.

"My recent life, when my physical condition permits, has given me the opportunity to enjoy things that I was not able to do when I was swimming, such as enjoying colouring books and puzzles, and watching movies."

— Rikako Ikee

Ikee added: "When I look outside every day, I imagine how wonderful it will be to feel the fresh breeze of the season and to get wet in the rain. These are some of the things I look forward to doing after I am released from hospital."

However, she warned her fans that there is still a long road ahead until she can return to action.

"I expect this will be a prolonged period of hospitalisation and treatment," Ikee said. "Honestly speaking, I sometimes become discouraged."

Back in March, the six-time Asian Games champion admitted struggling with the disease, saying the battle was "harder than I thought".

"It's tens of times, hundreds of times, thousands of times harder than I expected. I haven't been able to eat for more than three days. But I don't want to lose," she said then.

It was a feeling of defiance she repeated in her latest statement.

"I will stay positive by thinking about what I would like to accomplish and what I will be enjoying in the days to come," Ikee wrote.

"I feel a surge of gratitude as a result of all the encouraging words I have received, and I promise myself I will not be defeated and will endure until I am able to overcome my illness.

"I will always keep in mind that I am not alone, and I would like you to do the same. We will persevere together."

School distraction

Ikee enrolled into the College of Sports Sciences at Nihon University in April despite her illness.

The teenager passed the entrance exams last October before her diagnosis, and has joined the school's swimming club.

It's quite the coup for the club, who now have an international swimmer with the pedigree to match.

Ikee was named Japan's Swimmer of the Year for 2018 after her six-gold haul at the Asian Games in Jakarta, where she also became the first female athlete to be named the Games MVP.

However, her ongoing treatment forced her to miss April's national championships which served as qualifiers for July's World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

"I will try my best to be able to announce good news as soon as possible to everyone waiting for me to return," Ikee said in her statement.

"I am so appreciative of your continued support."

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