It is often said that nothing is as special as a first.
A first kiss, a
first car, a first gold medal.
But for Lee Korzits nothing could be
further from the truth.
Korzits became the youngest ever winner of a gold
medal at the windsurfing World Championships as a precocious 19-year-old in
2003, but her return to the pinnacle of her sport earlier this month far
outweighed her triumph eight years ago.
For Korzits’s story is about a
lot more than standing on a surfboard and pulling at a sail. Her comeback from
two near-death experiences to claim another gold medal at the World
Championships transcends windsurfing, and sports in general.
therefore hardly surprising she has been chosen as The Jerusalem Post’s Israeli
Sports Personality of the Year for 2011.
“This is great,” Korzits told
the Post after being informed of the news.
“I’m really proud so many
people chose me. I represent the country and I’m happy I can bring joy to
people. It is very important to me to know that the country is behind
“Israel is important to me and it is important to me that people
care. It is not what makes me train harder, but it does give me a lot of
Korzits ended the two-week readers’ poll with over 26 percent of
the votes and edged basketball star Shay Doron by less than one percent in the
closest race ever.
Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball coach David Blatt was also
in contention until the final days, finishing third with a respectable 21
percent of the votes.
But it was Korzits who finished at the top of the
pack in a year that saw her go from an easily forgotten past champion to
Israel’s best medal hope at next summer’s London Olympics.
“Until now I
can’t believe I am the world champion,” Korzits said with a smile. “I had got
used to saying I’m a former world champion. I suffered a really serious injury
and found myself in difficult situations. At certain stages I had already given
However, the 27-year-old refused to quit and reaped the rewards this
Besides finishing first in the RS:X windsurfing competition at the
Worlds in Perth, Australia, earlier this month, Korzits also took a silver medal
at the European windsurfing Championships in Burgas, Bulgaria, in
But what made her success particularly remarkable was the fact
that two years ago she was told by doctors that she might never walk again and
that just last year she came within 30 seconds of drowning.
extraordinary accomplishments as a teenager took its toll on Korzits, who
quickly grew sick with the arduous nature of her sport.
After ending the
2004 Athens Olympics in a relatively disappointing 13th position, the Michmoret
native finished as low as 18th in the Europeans and 49th in the Worlds in 2007
following the change to the RS:X Neil Pryde sailboard from the Mistral
She lost out to Ma’ayan Davidovich in the battle to represent
Israel at the 2008 Beijing Games and decided to take a break.
flew to a friend in Hawaii and soon joined the Professional Windsurfers
Association’s tour. She also took part in extreme surfing events in the Canary
Islands and earned a living from selling Dead Sea products and the occasional
Despite making little money, Korzits enjoyed every moment,
until her life was turned on its head in April 1, 2009.
taking part in a photo shoot for one of her sponsors when another surfer rammed
into her back.
She broke two ribs and could barely breathe before another
massive wave rolled her against the rocks and broke her leg.
two days in intensive care under sedation and was told by doctors that she might
be paralyzed and would never be able to surf again.
In what is a
testament to Korzits’s unrelenting fighting spirit she independently decided to
stop being treated with morphine, and after two torturous days she finally
managed to get out of bed, paving the way for her eventual return to
“While I was injured, I kept asking myself ‘why didn’t I
appreciate the life I once had? Why didn’t I fully realize my talent?’
thought about what I need to do to succeed and that gave me a lot of
“You only begin to appreciate something when you no longer have
After an excruciating year of rehabilitation, Korzits competed in
her first major event since the injury in May of last year, ending the Delta
Lloyd Regatta in Medemblik, Netherlands, in 14th place.
comeback almost ended in tragedy when an American windsurfer crashed into her
during last July’s European Championships and she found herself trapped
underwater underneath her sail.
Korzits lost consciousness, but
fortunately a French coach who was nearby noticed her plight and resuscitated
her moments before she would have suffered irreversible damage.
really scary, but mainly annoying,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why these
bad things keep happening to me. But now when I look back at it I think that
perhaps all these bad things happened to make way for something good. It was all
part of the process. I am now much stronger and smarter.”
to be traumatized by the frightening experience and she has been on a steady
“I think that the satisfaction from this gold medal is much
greater because I now really appreciate what I have achieved,” Korzits
“When you are a kid and you win the world championships out of
nowhere you don’t really know how to handle it. Now I know how amazing it is and
how hard it is to accomplish.”
Next up for Korzits is March’s 2012 World
Championships in Cadiz, Spain, but everyone is already looking forward to the
London Olympics, and Lee believes she has what it takes to scale the podium once
more, this time on the biggest stage in world sports.
“I really hope I
can win a medal in London. That is my goal,” she said. “I will be entering these
Olympics much better than the Athens Games as I know what I’m up
“I’m optimistic that I’ll do my very best and arrive at the
Olympics in the best physical shape. You never know what will happen, but I have
the ability to succeed.”