inbal pezaro 224 88.
(photo credit: AP)
Star Paralympic swimmer Inbal Pezaro has defied the odds once again.
Just three months after winning three silver medals for Israel in the Beijing pool at this year's Paralympic games, the 21-year-old has been named The Jerusalem Post's Israeli Sports Personality of the Year for 2008.
The young athlete attracted support from a more than 50 percent of voters in a poll of readers of the Post and its Web site jpost.com.
Pezaro follows on from tennis player Shahar Pe'er who won the award last year.
Over 600 people registered their choice on-line, and Pezaro made easy work of beating off the challenges from sports stars with much higher profiles than herself.
Those included former Chelsea FC coach Avraham Grant who came in second with 19% and tennis player Andy Ram who garnered 14%.
Israel's only medal winner at the summer Olympics, windsurfer Shahar Zubari, came in fourth place with 12%.
Zubari had something to celebrate, however, as he was named the Post's Young Sports Personality of the Year in another of the newspaper's end of year sports awards.
Former Hapoel Holon basketball coach Miki Dorsman was named coach of the year, Holon as team of the year and American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps as International Sports Personality of the Year.
Pezaro headed off on a three-month trip in the Southern Hemisphere almost immediately after the Paralmpics closing ceremony in September, taking in New Zealand and then Australia.
Currently traveling around Australia, Pezaro said it was "very uplifting" to find out she had won the award when the Post managed to catch up with her this week.
"This is unexpected. It defies many stereotypes," said Pezaro, who exceeded all expectations at the Paralympics, coming in second in three finals - the 100 meters freestyle, 200m freestyle and 100m breastroke.
"I'm proud to say that this is something I did for the love of sport and that there's nothing more gratifying than knowing that somebody appreciates what you're doing," she added.
The swimmer was born with a blood problem in her spinal cord which caused her to become crippled in her lower limbs.
She began swimming at a young age for rehabilitation purposes and then joined a team and began training.
Although the support of the readers of this newspaper clearly meant much to Pezaro, her overiding feeling about the situation of disabled sports in Israeli is one of disillusionment.
"Unfortunately I feel that disabled sports have been going backwards in Israel in recent years," she said.
"Since the Sydney Games, which were a peak following Keren Leibowitz's achievements, the awareness and recognition of disabled sports have been in decline.
"Disabled sports don't get the respect they deserve in Israel. Unfortunately this doesn't say much about the progress of disabled sports in Israel. Progress depends on many different factors which are unrelated to public opinion."
And the veteran of two Paralympic Games, who trains at the Ilan Israeli Sports Center for the Disabled, implied she is even considering giving up on competitive swimming.
"I'm just a couple months after my second Paralympics and I can pretty much say that the wind has been taken out of my sails," she said.
"It is now clear to me that sport, which has always been a hobby, will have to continue to be a hobby and it's about time I get on with my life and turn my attention to something where there's no distinction between able and disabled people. I'm going to go to university and I'll hopefully excel there as well," added Pezaro, who intends to study science.
Asked if she intends competing at the London Paralympics in 2012, Pezaro would only say, "I don't want to make any announcement, but my priorities will have to change."
An Olympic Games is always a massive experience for all involved and Pezaro said that her time in Beijing was often overwhelming.
"I wish I could learn to enjoy the Olympic experience more," she said. "It's a crazy experience.
"The pressure of the competition doesn't allow you to enjoy the experience itself. I have no doubt that I will not have many more experiences in my life which will be as amazing as the Olympics."