Life at the gallop

Meet Uri Basha, who lost his sight during the 1982 Lebanon War, and is now helping others with their own blindness.

Uri Basha 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Uri Basha 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Uri Basha doesn't have that "Hollywood Hero" mystique. Warm, soft-spoken and unassuming, he is the very definition of down to earth. Uri is blind, though, surprisingly, that is not one of his most striking characteristics. While for most of us even the thought of losing our vision would stop us in our tracks, Uri lived through that nightmare and emerged without missing a step. In the summer of 1982, Uri was serving in Division 7, Platoon 82 helping guard the Golan Heights from terrorist infiltration as the commander of one of the IDF's early Merkava tanks. At dawn, on the 17th of August, he was sent into Bika'at Ha'Levanon (The Lebanon Valley) to join the battle against guerrillas firing on IDF troops with rocket propelled grenades. The IDF rained artillery on the terrorists all morning long. By afternoon, the area was fairly quiet and Uri was sent to a way-station to rearm and get some food. Without warning, a shell hit the station. Shell fragments damaged both of his eyes, one so severely that it was removed on the spot. Back in Israel, doctors tried desperately to preserve the vision in his second eye, but the damage was too severe. Uri was blind. However, he was determined to fight for his freedom. He found out that Guide Dogs were the best way to preserve his ability to follow whatever life path he chose. Therefore, he immediately requested a Guide Dog, a major undertaking in the 80s since there were no guide dog schools in Israel. Within months, he was on his way to the US for intensive training. The travel was grueling, the language unfamiliar and the adjustment and follow-up, difficult. But Uri persevered. At a rehab facility for injured soldiers in Tel Aviv, he immersed himself in exercise, swimming and goalball, a high-speed sport for visually-impaired players. He discovered the joys of horseback riding, started taking overnight horseback trips, and later began training in dressage, artistic competitive riding. In his first serious competition, the World Paralympics Championships in England, he placed 6th overall. Meanwhile, he earned his Bachelor's degree in Clinical Social Work from Tel Aviv University and his Master's in treating addictions. Today, Uri, his wife Rachel and their four children, house pets, and three horses live on a moshav near Netanya. After his chores, Uri counsels private patients and groups. Guide-dog-wise, life has gotten much easier. His latest dog, a German Shepherd named Lucy, was raised and trained at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind. She guides him through his busy life and sits in on his sessions. "She is very sensitive," Uri explains," Sometimes, clients get emotional telling their stories, and she gets up on her own and puts her head on their laps to comfort them." Uri may be on a break from competitive riding, but he keeps his life at a gallop's pace. In March, he went to Greece to play internationally for the Israeli goalball team. Next month, he plans to fly to New York with Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind founder and director, Noach Braun, to drum up international support for the Center. As for ambitions for the future: "Another trip to India," Uri smiles, "and, to tell you the truth, I have always wanted to be a truck driver." Knowing him, it's only a matter of time before he has the trainers at the Guide Dog Center taking Lucy for driving lessons. To contact the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind, call: 972-8-9408213.