Israeli marathoner dreams of Paralympic success

Despite Israel’s Paralympic success and reputation in rehabilitation through sports, specialized racing wheelchairs are not available in the country, so De Pilosof imported it himself.

Avi De-Pilosof (left) will be making his return to true competition on Friday when he participates in the Tiberias marathon in his new racing wheelchair. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Avi De-Pilosof (left) will be making his return to true competition on Friday when he participates in the Tiberias marathon in his new racing wheelchair.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Avi De-Pilosof was paralyzed from the waist down by a serious accident. It may have altered the course of his life, but it wouldn’t stop it.
A little over five years ago, De-Pilosof was laying in a hospital bed with broken vertebrae, a smashed jaw, collapsed lungs and in severe pain after a high-speed crash with his bike, for reasons which are still not clear, while riding near Tzur Hadassah on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
After a week in intensive care, he underwent four months of rehabilitation.
Despite being in a wheelchair, he returned at the first opportunity to his job as a running coach at the Siim Campus at Tel Aviv University, and to his running club “Easy Speed” which he had guided prior to the accident.
But while he had made a comeback to the sporting world which had always been such a major part of his life, and had also completed the Tiberias marathon on a standard wheelchair in five-and-a-quarter hours three years ago, De-Pilosof’s severe injuries prevented him from truly competing once more, the way he had done previously in marathons and ironman competitions.
That will change this Friday when he takes part in the half-marathon as part of the Tiberias marathon events, competing for the first time in his racing wheelchair.
Wheelchair racing competitions are held on a running track and on road courses and have been part of the Summer Paralympics since 1960.
Competitors compete in specialized wheelchairs which allow the athletes to reach speeds of 30 km/h or more. It is considered to be one of the most prestigious events of Paralympic athletics.
Despite Israel’s Paralympic success and reputation in rehabilitation through sports, the specialized racing wheelchairs are not available in the country.
The 43-year-old De-Pilosof, a father of two who lives in Tel Aviv, imported his chair himself, only finally receiving it six weeks ago.
He is being tutored on its use by a coach from the US and will at last get to test it in competition on Friday.
“This racing wheelchair is meant to imitate running, unlike the handcycles, which are more prevalent in Israel, and imitate cycling,” explained De-Pilosof. “Because of my past and the fact that I come from the running world and I’m an athletics coach, my first wish was to return to the running track and this is the right way to do that.”
The Tiberias Sea of Galilee Marathon will be taking place for the 41st year on Friday, with over 7,000 people to compete in the different events.
The full marathon also serves as Israel’s national championship in the 42.195 km run. A prize of $100,000 will be awarded to the runner who breaks the course record of 2:07.30 hours set six years ago.
Even though he has only been practicing in his new racing wheelchair for a little over a month, De-Pilosof is not afraid of setting the bar high for himself and is hoping to one day represent Israel at the Paralympics.
“I have set that as a target. It isn’t a realistic goal in my current situation after just six weeks with the racing chair, but we’ll be able to see where I stand one year before the Paralympics,” he noted.
De-Pilosof spoke of how he only understood after the accident the significance of sports in his life, both from a positive and negative standpoint.
“It was a negative as I was so immersed in sports that it came at the expense of many things like family and work. Maybe the accident is also the result of being so immersed,” said De-Pilosof. “On the other hand, sport also helped me rehabilitate quickly and helped me get back to the normal world and be independent rather than being dependent and stuck at home.”
De-Pilosof has no recollection of the accident and it took him some time to understand his situation after waking up in the emergency room.
“I was in such terrible pain that I didn’t really understand what was going on,” he said. “The first thing I asked the nurse was when can I leave because I have a training session in the evening. That was all that was on my mind at that moment.
Only after the pain subsided did I understand that I don’t feel my feet.
And even then I was in a little bit of denial.”
De-Pilosof returned to guide his running club, which includes dozens of runners, immediately after completing his rehabilitation, although he admitted it was pretty strange to do so from his wheelchair.
“The running club was a lifeline for me. To return to a world that embraces you and loves you, a world you know so well,” he said. “It was a return to the safest place for me. But it was also really weird to coach runners when you can’t run. You lose a bit of your confidence, but during the practice session you almost forget you are in a wheelchair.”
It was around midway through his long rehabilitation that De-Pilosof decided that he needs to make the best of his new situation, and like any other athlete, he is setting himself lofty goals and isn’t afraid of dreaming big.
“The accident opened new possibilities to reach places I couldn’t have beforehand,” he noted. “I could have never participated in the Olympics as a runner even had I given my all in practice. Now I can dream of achieving something similar by taking part in the Paralympics and that is something that can’t be taken for granted.”