Get to know Steven Toyoji

Steven is from Redmond...

Washington where he found adaptive sports through sit-skiing, wheelchair basketball, and wheelchair racing as a way to engage in recreational activities with his family and peers. His athletic career developed as he began competing at the University of Arizona for the men’s wheelchair basketball team and wheelchair track and road-racing team. He continues to compete and has earned the honor of representing the U.S. Paralympic Track and Field Team in numerous international competitions including the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

While at the University of Arizona, Steven received his BA in Business Administration with a focus on Marketing. Following graduation, he moved to Chicago where he worked for a startup internet marketing firm and filled his free time volunteering with the Rehab Institute of Chicago and the Starlight Foundation Midwest. Steven moved to San Jose from Chicago where he returned to academics as he earned his MA in Child and Adolescent Development from San Jose State University.

Steven first became familiar with the Riekes Center shortly after he moved to California. He began competing for the NorCal Quakes Wheelchair Rugby team and received strength and speed training. He is now excited to be able to experience the positive energy and undeniable spirit of the Riekes Center on a daily basis.

What brought you to the Riekes Center?

I first came to The Riekes Center when I moved here in 2011. I was looking to get more familiar with the area, the community, and the state. We had a friend here, Jackie, who played wheelchair tennis and her coach, or one of her mentors, was Sharon Kelleher who actually held my position before me, so she was in charge of all the adaptive sports here. Jackie brought us to The Riekes Center, I started playing rugby with the wheelchair rugby team and then I started working out with one of the trainers here to get back into track and just went from there.

We know your were recently in Switzerland, why?

I was yes, I was there racing. So I’m currently on Team USA for wheelchair track for the Paralympics. So I was over there for a big track meet. It’s a really nice location cause there’s a really cool facility and a really nice track all within walking distance. So because Switzerland is centrally located all of the European countries go there. Then some of the other countries caught on, like Australia, U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan so they all started going there as well. The turnout was huge and immediate, the timing of it is perfect because it’s before everyone’s nationals, their trials to qualify for the Paralympics so it’s kind of a good chance to test yourself and measure yourself against the rest of the world.

There’s that mini freakout because you don’t really know how everybody else is doing. So you can see what they’re working on. I always assume that everyone else is working out harder than I am so that way it kinda helps me keep going and pushes me.  The event in Switzerland is great because you can also see who’s bigger, faster, or stronger than they were last year. Then I can see if I’m on track or find more things to work on.

So you’re a Paralympian?!  Awesome, tell us about your time in China?

I was there in 2008 for the Beijing Paralympics. That was really cool. I was there competing in the 400 meter, the 800 meter, and the marathon. My best finish was the marathon, I finished in 5th place. So not quite a medalist but it was a wild experience there. It was my first and only Paralympics and the country was awesome, the fans were very supportive. It was wild. We were racing in the Bird’s Nest, so there were 90,000 people packed in there every single day. Every other event that I’ve competed in before that was maybe a thousand people at most. So you just get this rush coming out of the tunnel and you just hear the crowd going crazy. So just to be able to have that experience there and have my family there was awesome.

Where do you train? How often? And what are you training for right now?

So I train in Golden Gate Park, I live right across the street from there. So it’s neat there; they have Kezar Stadium, which has a really nice track; they have the polo field which is a three-quarter mile loop there; all the trails, uphill, downhill, over speeds, so there’s everything I can possibly imagine there right in my backyard. I train six days a week, I get Mondays off so I can recover and I also do some work here at The Riekes with the PRI stuff just to make sure my body’s aligned right, fit and healthy.

Right now I’m training for the Rio Paralympics so we have tryouts at the end of the month. I’m training for the 1500 meter and the 400 meter.

When do you find out?

We have trials in Charlotte, from June 30th to July 2nd, so I’ll know by July 3rd if I’m going to Rio or not. Fingers crossed.

What’s the most challenging?

It’s the off season. It’s putting in that work when you’re not racing. Because a) you don’t know what everyone else is doing and b) it’s hard to be putting in time especially when you have those really tough weeks when you feel like you’re hitting a wall or hitting those valleys just to be able to push through that. It’s tough when you don’t have that tangible goal or the next race. I’m not racing the next week or the week after that you know I’m racing in the next four months. But you still have to put in the time and build a solid base to be ready for next year. Keeping that motivation is just the toughest part. But I’m lucky I have a good support system around me and other athletes who are in the same boat as me and we can bounce ideas off of each other.

How do you stay motivated?

I think it’s just having those memories of past failures. I always joke that fear is my biggest motivator. The fear of not being where I want to be. Not accomplishing what I want to accomplish. That’s what keeps me going, constantly striving to be better than the last time.

What’s the most rewarding?

Seeing those results. Seeing you worked for something whether it’s medaling or making a team or hitting a time. Just seeing the hard work pay off, that’s what really keeps me going. Cause you’re always going to have those bad days, or weeks, or months where you feel like you just can’t get out of bed or you’re in a rut and as long as you just push through it, it always kinda turns around. You just need to reevaluate what you’re doing. It happened to me where I needed to rehash how I was working out and take some time off but in the end if you just push through and get over it then you end up getting to where you want and seeing the results you want.

What inspires you about the Riekes Center?

Everything, I think it’s what this place stands for. The whole motto is “Got Goals?” it’s all about achieving your goals and setting new goals. Constantly trying to better yourself and also in a way where it’s not just beneficial to you as a person, but the people around you. It’s not just about yourself it’s about being a better coworker, teammate, friend, family member, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever the case it’s just not always about the individual, it’s about everyone.

What is your favorite memory?

I don’t know, there’s so many. I have a terrible memory so I’m always thinking about what happened most recently. So I think most recently what happened is that we skinned a squirrel that we found. That was pretty cool. I mean I’ve never done that and totally would never have thought that I would have done that to a squirrel so that was pretty cool. Just trying something new. I would never have envisioned myself to be in the backyard skinning any animal, let alone a squirrel. So I mean it was the coolest thing. Just seeing the way the class was taught was just really cool. It wasn’t barbaric, it was very respectful, really well structured and informative way to learn a new skill.

What is your spirit animal?

I always just say cheetah just because they’re so fast. Since I was 7 or 8 I always watched a lot of those nature shows. I always loved seeing the cheetahs chasing after all the other animals in the wild.

How long have you worked here?

Three months, four months. Not very long, I’m a newcomer.

Describe your job?

My job is I am the manager of the Adaptive Veterans program primarily. But I also work with Student Services and the customized programs. So right now my day to day is all over the place. Primarily I am working with adaptive programs. Making sure we have proper funding and scheduling. A little bit of outreach to make sure we have participants. And everything’s going well according to the program and finding new avenues in which sports we need to venture out into and which sports we need to focus more into and always looking for funding opportunities as well. On the flipside of that is Student services kinda helping out the team with Gary and Lex on making sure we are there to help out or if they need anyone to go to when things get crazy. It’s always fun.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?

I think it’s the people, I think this is a really cool environment to work in. It’s not always when you have so much freedom and you get to interact with so many positive individuals on a regular basis.

What was your first impression of Gary?

Just his spirit, he’s a very warm-loving person.

Out of all of the staff here who inspires you most? Why?

That’s tough, I wouldn’t be able to pick just one person. I think everybody has their own special talents. I don’t know, I can’t choose favorites here! It’d probably be one of the music teachers because I’ve always had a tone-deaf ear. So I’ve always been jealous and envious of their abilities.

I’ve played instruments, not well. I played the drums a little bit but not with any kind of lessons.

What is one thing about you that is unexpected?

I”m a messy person. Any living space that I’m in will be messy. But I’m not a dirty person. I call it “organized clutter” like I always know if my stuff moves! I always look for it where I put it. If it’s not there it usually means that my wife cleaned it up and put it somewhere it’s suppose to be. But not according to me. I know if it’s supposed to be in this pile of clothes, because I left it there.

Wait so you’re married?! We don’t see a ring!

Yes! I’ve been married for three years now. I met my wife my freshman year of college. I lose my wedding ring like everyday. I wear it but me and my wife, we both take our rings off everyday. She works in heart surgery so she takes it off at work and I do everyday when I workout so I’ll put it in my shoe so I remember to put it back on after.

Describe the Riekes Center in one word.

It’s love. I think it’s a very nurturing environment.