Buddhist Chaplain Zenji Nio Helps Deliver Six Parapan Am Medals

By BD Dipananda
Buddhistdoor Global | 2015-09-04 |
Zenji Nio with Mexican windsurfer Demita Vega after she won a silver medal at the Pan Am Games. From panam.guruZenji Nio with Mexican windsurfer Demita Vega after she won a silver medal at the Pan Am Games. From

Athletes at the 2015 Parapan American Games held in Toronto, Canada, from 7–15 August are crediting the spiritual guidance of Buddhist chaplain and motivational mentor Zenji Nio for playing a key role in helping them win one gold, two silver, and three bronze medals after he helped to deliver six medals at the Pan American Games in July. The Parapan American Games is a multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities held every four years after every Pan American Games, and is governed by the Americas Paralympic Committee.

Nio, a Toronto native of Indian descent, whose practice combines Eastern philosophy and Buddhist spiritualism with Western motivational techniques, worked with the athletes from a Buddhist temple in the Athletes Village. As a spiritual leader, Nio has over the years also given motivational lectures alongside professors from the University of Oxford, Harvard University, and the University of Toronto, and has received praise from influential leaders such as Canada’s minister of citizenship and immigration Chris Alexander, minister of finance Joe Oliver, and minister of national defence and minister for multiculturalism Jason Kenney.

Nio has coached hundreds of athletes, including dozens of medalists, all of whom testify to his substantial contribution to their success. Brazilian tennis player Guilherme Da Costa, who plays in a wheelchair, credits Nio with helping him to achieve his first big wins—a bronze medal in the Men’s Singles Class 2 and a gold medal in the Men’s Team Class 1-2. 

Brazilian tennis player Guilherme Da Costa shows off his medals with Zenji Nio. From panam.guruBrazilian tennis player Guilherme Da Costa shows off his medals with Zenji Nio. From

“I had been doing meditation in Brazil, but when Zen taught me about Buddha, my practice became so much more powerful,” said Da Costa. “All the spirituality, meditation, and motivational techniques that Zen taught me will always stay in my heart for all of my life and will help me not only in Rio but also in the game of life itself.” (National Post)

According to the National Post, Nio worked through the entire games, even coaching athletes outside on benches after the center closed at 11 p.m. and maintaining after-hours contact with them using WhatsApp.

Nio says that he is blessed to have worked with so many athletes and feels especially inspired by the Parapan athletes. “It is a two-fold process working with them because they are very nice to say that I am inspiring them and helping them in their most important hour of need, but they in turn are teaching me and everyone a lesson.” He added, “All of us who have a so-called able body, we have something to learn from these athletes.” (National Post)

The National Post reported that many of the athletes wore Nio’s Buddhist rosaries bearing the inscription “Namo Amida Kannon,” defining Amida as the source of all light and Kannon as the embodiment of hope and overcoming odds.

“I was never into religion, but the mantra Namo Amida Kannon that Zen taught me was so empowering, I cannot find the words to describe it,” said Venezuelan sprinter Elixon Maldonado, who acted as a guide for visually impaired runner Isabel Osorio in the 1,500-meter (T12) event. (National Post)

Esther Faskha, head of the Paralympic Committee of Panama, was another regular visitor to Nio’s temple. Faskha said that she hoped to see Nio at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “Spiritually, [Nio] has helped complete the part of me that was missing and I will personally recommend him to the organizers of the Rio Olympics when I meet them in a few weeks,” she stated. (National Post)

She added that The True Gospel of Lord Buddha, a book of the Buddha’s teachings compiled by Nio for Pan American Games athletes, is now carried by athletes from all over the world.

See more

Pan Am Interview (
TO2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games (Global News)
Buddhist chaplain helps deliver six Parapan Am medals (National Post)
Athletes thrive in Games after getting Buddhist spiritual guidance in Pan Am village (National Post

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