Dror Cohen 311.
(photo credit: Leadel.net)
Israel’s disabled sailing team won the gold medal at the World Championship of the International Federation of Disabled Sailors in Weymouth, England, on Friday.
At the end of 11 rounds of grueling competition, 2004 Paralympic champions Dror Cohen, Benny Vexler and Arnon Efrati won the three-person Sonar class ahead of Great Britain’s John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, whom they overtook in the final race.
“We have been twice second, we won the gold medal in the Paralympics but to win the World Championship is something very special especially as there are so many good sailors around,” Cohen said. “It was a tough, tough competition and it feels good to win when it’s like that.
“My crew was amazing, I’m so happy, for us and for Israel.”
There was some controversy before the Israelis were crowned World Champions, after the British crew protested their Israeli rivals for having film equipment on their boat, an alleged infringement of the class rules.
After a delay of almost two-and-half hours the Israelis were confirmed as Sonar champions, with the jury deciding that the presence of the video camera did breach the class rule but imposed zero penalty and recommended that for future events, the class rules should be reviewed.
The Israeli triumph is a good omen ahead of next year’s Paralympics, with next summer’s sailing events to take place at the same venue.
Next year will also mark 20 years since Cohen, then a 24-year-old fighter pilot cadet, lost his legs after he was flung out of an army vehicle.
Vexler and Efrati lost an arm in the first Lebanon War and Yom Kippur war respectively.
Cohen is a co-founder of Etgarim, a non-profit organization, founded in 1995.
“Before [Etgarim] was founded there was no provision in Israel for
disabled athletes to try more extreme sports. We now have a framework to
enable all standard of disabled athletes – including mentally disabled –
to try any sport,” Cohen exclaimed.
“As a paraplegic you learn to do everything from scratch. I used extreme
sports to help me through those first years. I firstly made water
skiing my sport after a trip to London in 1994. I fell in love with the
lake. I also tried skiing but didn’t want to be in a mountain in Austria
for nine months a year.
“So I tried sailing – something I could do to a world class level while based in Tel Aviv,” he added.
“As a newly disabled person, in the beginning you don’t know what is
going on. You never accept it but you learn to live with it. You choose
to live your life as best you can.”