Tikvot: Racing toward hope

An NGO rehabilitates Israel’s wounded soldiers and terror victims through sports.

By JANINE SHER
September 25, 2019 13:23
Tikvot: Racing toward hope

Eitan Hermon set a world record in the marathon for single-leg amputee runners in Vienna. (photo credit: MARC MORRIS)



Eitan Hermon was born to run – and he refuses to let the amputation of his right leg stop him.

Since his days growing up in Kfar Blum in northern Israel, Hermon has excelled at competitive running, always pushing himself to greater challenges.

When the Second Lebanon War erupted in the summer of 2006, Hermon returned to the army as a reservist in the Golani Brigade. He was riding in an armored vehicle when it hit a roadside bomb, and he sustained a serious leg injury. As he was being evacuated by stretcher, Hermon repeated again and again, “I will still run a marathon!”

At the hospital, Hermon was met by representatives of Tikvot, and Hermon said again that he wanted to run. After spending six weeks in the hospital and undergoing months of rehabilitation, Hermon underwent a below the knee amputation of his right leg. Hermon was devastated but remained determined to run again.

Tikvot fitted him with a prosthetic leg made especially for running, and a year after his amputation, Tikvot began to help him train for national and international competitions. After only four months of training, Hermon competed in his first 10k race, to the amazement of his coaches. In 2015, he was crowned International Paralympic world champion in the London Marathon.

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 23, 2017, 11 years after his injury, Hermon set a world record in the marathon for single-leg amputee runners in Vienna, crossing the finish line at two hours, 56 minutes and 53 seconds.

In 2018, Hermon competed again in the London World Athletics Marathon World Cup. The next stop for the 45-year-old athlete? The New York Marathon, one of the world’s most challenging and prestigious races. He is planning to compete this November.

According to Hermon, he could not have achieved these remarkable goals without the steadfast support of Tikvot volunteers who have been there for him, accompanying him step by step, since the day of his traumatic injury. In Hermon’s words, “Tikvot for me is family.
Tikvot gives me the tools to cope with all the obstacles and to break through boundaries, and it provides whatever a sportsman needs, especially for an amputee.”

Tikvot, WHICH means “hopes” in Hebrew, is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization founded in 2007 by South African immigrants Mervin “Rocky” Muravitz and Victor Essakow. Tikvot organizes sport activities to rehabilitate wounded soldiers and terror victims, helping them to strengthen themselves, to rebuild their shattered lives, and to restore their dignity and self-confidence. Approximately 800 terror victims and wounded soldiers participate in its sports programs.

Tikvot also offers trainers for a wide variety of sports including skiing, surfing, triathlon, go-karting and horseback riding. Some participants train in groups, while others are trained individually.

Last year, Tikvot athletes participated in two ski trips (in France and Italy), and competed in local triathlons in Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion, Achziv and Ashkelon. Ziv Shilon, a veteran IDF soldier who lost one arm while serving in Gaza, competed in the half-ironman in Atlantic City and in the Ironman in Arizona. Noam Gershony, a former helicopter pilot severely wounded during the Second Lebanon war, started his rehabilitation through Tikvot’s skiing program – on water and snow – and went on to win a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics in London.

Simone Farbstein, South-African born director of Tikvot, is passionate about the work of her organization. She has devoted her life to transforming the lives of wounded soldiers through sports. Farbstein describes Tikvot as a family where everyone works together to achieve a common goal.

“It is truly humbling to watch the participants use all their strength to rise from the lowest place and return to life,” she says, eagerly sharing photos of the soldiers and of the terror victims supported by Tikvot, and gushing proudly about their accomplishments.

Tikvot meets the wounded in the hospital and then “We help them decide,” Farbstein explains. “Each person chooses a sport they connect to. Tikvot then provides the participant with funding and coaches to help them pursue the sport of their choice.”

Matan Berman, a veteran of the canine Oketz Unit, a special division of the paratroopers, required a leg amputation after a bomb exploded while his unit was defusing explosive devices in Gaza in 2002. Berman suffered from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following this traumatic attack, and Tikvot came to his aid by helping him overcome his PTSD through a variety of sports – Berman participated in surfing, waterskiing, climbing and horseback riding. “Tikvot has given me the freedom to do any kind of sport in spite of my disability,” says Berman. “It makes me feel like I could conquer mountains!”

Berman’s crowning achievement thus far took place in July 2018, when Israeli audiences watched spellbound as Berman worked through challenging obstacles while competing in the Israeli TV show Ninja Israel. At the end of the competition, one of the hosts, Niv Ruskin of Ninja Israel, summarized Berman’s inspiring performance with these words: “This man proves that there is no such thing as limitations.”

Tikvot had trained Berman to compete in this remarkable event, and they could not have been prouder.

Another Tikvot participant who has benefited from their sports programs is Dorin Malka.

Today, Malka is a confident young woman who loves riding horseback with Tikvot’s specially-trained riding instructors, who also have a background in trauma psychotherapy. On March 9, 2002, Malka was just a little girl when she attended the Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. Two Palestinian terrorists walked into the lobby, tossing grenades and opening gunfire. Malka witnessed her nine-month-old baby sister, Avia, sitting in her carriage, sustain fatal injuries. Avia later died in hospital.

It has been a long and painful road for Malka, but horseback riding has contributed to her healing, restoring her confidence and offering a sense of well-being and tranquility as she is able to bond with these gentle animals.

Tikvot has also provided love and emotional support to Malka, as they do to so many wounded soldiers and victims of terror. “Tikvot is like another family, where I feel a sense of belonging and warmth, a family that gives me strength, hope, self-esteem and the motivation to move forward,” Malka says. “When I succeed in sports, it is a lot of fun and it also gives me so much satisfaction and happiness.”

Tikvot is run entirely by a team of dedicated volunteers and relies on donations to fund its programs since it charges no fee to participants. Earlier this year, World Mizrachi/Bnei Akiva partnered with Tikvot, as some of their participants ran alongside Eitan Hermon and other wounded soldiers in the Jerusalem Marathon on March 15 to raise money for Tikvot.

The Tikvot Tigers is Tikvot’s 11-member triathlon team, made up of recovering victims of terror and wounded soldiers.

Families come each year to celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs with Tikvot. It also hosts tailor-made sports activities for school groups – every year a group of students from the Yeshiva of Flatbush, a modern-Orthodox high school in Brooklyn, visit Tikvot as part of their Chesed Mission to Israel.

This past January, the Flatbush students had the opportunity to hear Matan Berman speak about his experiences. They later recorded their impressions about their meeting in their blog. Their amazement is palpable: “We heard from Matan Berman, who was injured in 2002, had his foot amputated…and went on to become one of the top-10 rock climbers in world competitions. He even competed in Ninja Israel!”

Farbstein speaks about Berman with awe and admiration. “We saw him come back to life.” she says. “His progress is amazing! Ten years ago and now – two different people!”

Through the unique healing power of sports, Tikvot continues every day to instill hope, provide companionship, and encourage those who have suffered trauma and pain to dream new dreams for the future.

For more details, go to www.Tikvot.org.il


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