Approximately 40,000 runners will take part in the London Marathon on Sunday.
Perhaps none of them have as compelling a story as Avi Solomon, a 36-year-old Israeli runner who will be competing in his first marathon...despite the fact that he is completely blind.
Solomon, a married father of six who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh, was born in Ethiopia and began to lose his vision at the age of six after contracting an infection in the small village he was living in. After moving to Israel, he had surgery on both of his eyes and briefly regained his sight before things deteriorated into total blindness about 17 years ago.
A track and short-distance runner in high school, Solomon refused to give up his passion even with the difficulties that his lack of vision presented.
“I started to run in a competitive fashion around eight years ago,” said Solomon to The Jerusalem Post this week. “After a year-and-a-half I went to the World Championships in South Korea and came back with an injury. That experience just motivated me to continue participating in international events.”
As a blind runner, Solomon runs tethered to a running partner, a sighted guide. In the past year, he has run two half-marathons, escorted by Ariel Goldsmith and Lior Berhano. The threesome completed the Tel Aviv half-marathon in 1h26m, a qualifying time for participation in the London Marathon. Both Goldsmith and Berhano will be traveling to London as well and will each run half of the race at Solomon’s side.
“During races, me and my running partners have to communicate the entire time,” explained Solomon. They are literally my eyes on the ground and tell me what is going on around me, whether it be other runners or other obstacles along the way. We have to decide when to slow down, when to speed up and many other aspects. We are truly like one during a race, it is a very intimate feeling.”
In addition to his guides, Solomon has a team of coaches and helpers who help make his running possible.
“The main difference between running with vision and running blind is that before I was able to choose when I ran and just go,” noted Solomon. “Now, me running involves a lot more preparation and the need for other people as well. In order to make my dreams happen, others have to go beyond the call of duty, pick me up from my house, take me to a place that is suitable for me to train etc.
“My coach, Daniel Ishta, works extremely hard to come up with a training regimen that is tailored to my needs and abilities, which are obviously quite unique for a marathon runner. I also have tremendous gratitude toward my friend Justine Zwerling, who has such a huge heart and has helped take care of a lot of the logistics to enable me to participate in the London Marathon.”
Solomon will be running under the auspices of the Afikim Foundation, a non-profit organization that was created to address the enormous child poverty crisis in Israel.
For the past six years, Afikim has run an annual relay race from Jerusalem’s First Station to Eilat – 36 hours of racing, 60 runners combining to complete 370 kilometers in the wind, rain and cold – to raise attention and funds for its cause.
Through a fund-raising campaign initiated by Goldsmith, Solomon has also been sponsored by many private individuals from Israel and abroad, and a number of businesses, including Precise Financial Management Services led by Nir Yerushalmi. This support has allowed Solomon to train for the marathon and lighten his workload without his family suffering financially.
“To be honest, this whole thing has not been easy on my wife,” said Solomon. “I spend a lot of time out my house for training, and so much of the family and domestic responsibilities fall on her shoulders. At the same times, she is 100% supportive of me as she sees how much running strengthens me as a person and how my running can be an example for others about what is possible.
“Generally, I get up at 4 a.m. and after some training, go to my first job then my second job and, if I’m lucky, some more training in the afternoon. This campaign has really made things a lot easier financially for us, for which I am extremely grateful.
“I would especially like to thank my entire training team, who do everything possible for me to achieve success in my running. My bond with them is much more than a typical coach-athlete relationship; we are really brothers. Also, I would like to pay tribute to my wife, Ariel’s wife, Lior’s wife, without whose support and understanding, none of this would be possible. I must also thank Afikim – a wonderful amuta with special people making a true difference in Israeli society.”
All of the effort and hard work by all of the people involved is more than worth it to achieve the end result, according to Solomon.
“When I run, I have a feeling of triumph, of freedom,” he said. “As someone who cannot see, this is an odd feeling, but with the help of my running brothers, I am able to feel completely secure and comfortable while I am running.
“I feel like I am literally overcoming my challenges and it gives me an uplifting and refreshing feeling that last with me for many days even after I finish running.”
Solomon ultimately hopes to parlay his experience at the London Marathon into a trip to the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, but is determined not to jump too far ahead.
“I don’t have a time goal,” said Solomon. “My target is to cross the finish line with a smile.
“My focus right now is on the London Marathon. I am someone who likes to take one step at a time. Today, before I have run even one marathon, it is difficult to start planning ahead on what will come next. But I know that if I can accomplish this goal of finishing the London Marathon, then I can do anything I set my heart on.”
He knows that his journey can have an enormous impact on others.
“The main message I would relay to people is the extreme power of sport,” said Solomon. “There is nothing like physical activity to enhance your mental well-being.
“My motto is to focus and nurture what you do have, rather than concentrating on what you don’t have. The moment you begin to focus on what you don’t have, you will lose that which you have.”
“I obviously know that I cannot see. But I take that knowledge and come up with ways to use that as a positive. I have many talents and abilities and am determined to channel them in ways that help me view myself in the best possible light.
“What started out a little more than six months ago as a pipe-dream has turned into an unbelievable reality. I don’t take the help I get for granted and I am so appreciative of it all.”For more information, and to support Avi’s journey, please visit www.runwithavi.com
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>