Revealing their true colors

A unique sporting event organized by Natal – Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War – will highlight the ‘invisible’ suffering of PTSD

t.colors 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
t.colors 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Rami Yulzary thinks big, and for him, that certainly beats being big in the wrong places.
The 50-year-old Yulzary is the brains, and brawn, behind Running in Color, a sporting event for all ages and levels of fitness that will take place next Friday at Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park. The meet is organized by Natal – Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War. It features short-distance runs, from 300 meters for small children, up to a competitive five-kilometer race.
The program is run in collaboration with the Tel Aviv Municipality the Nirlat paint manufacturing company, and sponsored by Noble Energy, the Yahel Foundation and the Altshuler-Shaham Group.
As the name of the event suggests, there will be plenty of color around next Friday.
“The idea is that the runners start out in white shirts, and while they run they will have environmentally and human-friendly paint powder thrown at them and end up with very colorful shirts,” explains Yulzary.
If any of the participants need some inspiration for their exertions at Hayarkon Park, they need look no further than the organizer. Thirty years ago, Yulzary was a young IDF soldier serving in the First Lebanon War. He returned home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, seemingly, got back to normal life. But even though outwardly Yulzary appeared to be functioning well, things inside were anything but good. A leading statistician, he soon set up a highly successful company in the field and also began lecturing at university.
But life became an emotional roller coaster, with the drops generally triggered by hostilities in the region.
“My first crisis, which led to my starting therapy, was sparked by the First Gulf War in 1991,” says Yulzary. “That was eight years after the events that led to my wounds in 1983. For two years I received medication and had discussions and all sorts of processes with the Defense Ministry.” Things seemed to be moving in the right direction. “I finished my degree at university, I ended the treatment, and I stepped out into the world.”
The relatively good times lasted a few years, until another wave of violence brought things to a head.
“My second emotional collapse, which was much more severe, occurred in 1999, when the second intifada was in progress,” recalls Yulzary. “It is always about events outside sparking off things inside me.”
That led to a new round of therapy and a new approach, administered at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.
“I was the first person in Israel to undergo therapy conceived by Prof. Edna Foa for PTSD resulting from wartime experiences. It is a form of therapy called PE – prolonged exposure,” he explains. “Prof. Foa comes from Israel and is the first woman from the field of psychology – I think it was four years ago – to be included in Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People because of her therapy system. Today, PE is the principal form of therapy used with soldiers in the United States,” he says.
Yulzary sensed that the PE treatment had had some impact on his emotional state, although life was still far from rosy.
“I felt the therapy had moved something in me, but you never know what’s waiting for you around the corner. There is always something that can set something off, and I came from the treatment feeling like a survivor of a hurricane,” he says.
There was work to be done to get back on track.
“A process began that lasted years, of rebuilding my life on all levels – physically and financially and otherwise. I completed a master’s degree, I set up a business. I already had one child, and then I had two more children. And I went through all kinds of other stuff, such as extensive dental treatment because my teeth were ruined by some of the medication I had taken,” he says.
Yulzary was a combat soldier, and he brought his military fighting instincts to bear in his civilian life to tackle the emotional turmoil he was going through. But there was one aspect of his health he felt powerless to overcome.
“Over the years, the only thing I couldn’t cope with was my weight, which gradually increased. Food is a sort of escape, a sort of addiction. At one point, I weighed 130 kilos,” he says.
While at 1.90 meters tall Yulzary was never going to be a flyweight, that was way beyond the realms of any healthy weight parameters. The problem was compounded by the fact that, physical volume aside, outwardly Yulzary seemed to be fine.
“We often call PTSD ‘the transparent wound injury.’ People look at you and you appear all right to them, but I was causing pain and problems for everyone around me.
Everyone was suffering together with me,” he says.
Yulzary’s emotional nadir continued from 1999 to 2003. His business, which had been doing very well, folded in a matter of two or three months, which of course led to financial difficulties. Even so, he managed to keep his academic career on course.
“The strange thing is that I had no trouble continuing with giving lectures. I could be a total mess, but on the day I gave a lecture – I lectured at all sorts of institutions – I’d get into it with no problem. I’d fall to pieces afterwards; but during the lecture, I’d be a complete professional,” he says.
The turning point in Yulzary’s life came three years ago when he discovered the healing powers – not to mention the weight loss benefits – of long-distance running.
“My wife went on a three-day workshop and recommended I do it, too. I wasn’t that crazy about the workshop, but it gave me a three-day time out; and when I came home, I had a sense that I needed to do something momentous. I consulted ‘Rabbi Google’ and, for some reason, I homed in on doing a marathon. That was after around 12 years of very unhealthy living – obesity, sleep disorders, bad dietary habits, you name it,” he recounts.
While some people around him weren’t entirely convinced he had it in him, Yulzary’s wife was up for it.
He was confident he could run the 42+ km. distance but thought it would take time. In practice, he managed it far more quickly than he expected.
“I was 46 years old at the time, and I thought I’d like to do the New York Marathon by the age of 50. My wife was totally supportive. She didn’t say that maybe I should start out at a health club and try to get my weight down. She just said I should make sure I had a trainer with me while I ran. The next day I had a personal trainer, and 10 months later I did the Tiberias Marathon,” he says.
And the rest truly is history. Now 50 years old and 35 kilos lighter than his peak weight, Yulzary has run all sorts of marathons all over the world. Three weeks ago, he did a 61 km. run. Keenly aware of the therapeutic benefits, he also looked to spread the gospel about running.
“I normally run on my own, and it is a sort of meditative thing,” he says. “All sorts of things come up while I run, and the horror of my experience in Lebanon also comes up. It is a good way of working things through and, of course, staying healthy.”
Today, Yulzary leads his own group of runners, all of whom suffer from some degree of PTSD.
“The runners are all ages, from 25 to 65, and Running in Color will be the first time we will participate in an official event. I hope there are many more,” he says.
NATAL DIRECTOR-GENERAL Orly Gal is pretty certain there will be more Running in Color meets.
“The idea is to hold the event in a different town every year,” she says, adding that next Friday’s gathering at Hayarkon Park is not just about having a good time. “This year, everybody marked the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, and we are still addressing the problems of people who were emotionally scarred by the events. The second generation, too.”
Gal hopes that Running in Color will help raise awareness about the problems caused by PTSD. Like Yulzary, she is keenly conscious that post-trauma is often overlooked.
“Yes, it is called the invisible wound, but it can have a devastating effect on the victim and on everyone around them. It is like a Thermos bottle. When the bottle drops, it looks fine from the outside; but inside, it is shattered. The sufferers are supposed to behave normally in, for them, a totally abnormal situation. We hope to get that message across next Friday,” she says.
Gal adds that part of the thinking behind the paint aspect of the run is to make PTSD sufferers more visible to the public in the most colorful – if symbolic – way possible.
“Throwing edible paint powder on the runners will add color to the event and also make the participants stand out more. For many years, trauma caused by events in battle and other situations was not considered a legitimate cause of all sorts of problems. There was the ideological figure of the strong Israeli hero who was invincible. Everyone has to know, naturally including the PTSD sufferers themselves, that their problems are perfectly legitimate,” she says.
To date, NATAL has helped more than 160,000 people with the effects of post-trauma and their families all across the country’s social and ethnic spectrum.
“We have therapists who administer treatment and give assistance to PTSD sufferers in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Amharic and other languages,” notes Gal. “We try to help as many people as we can in a way that is comfortable for them and suitable for their culture, and we take a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the problems of the sufferers and all the circles of people around them.”
The participants in the 5 km. run will include 1,000 combat soldiers, and Gal says the Anglo community is on board as well.
“So far, over 250 English speakers have registered for the various runs,” she says, “and I’m sure there will be more by next Friday.”
It looks like Running in Color will be fun for everyone involved. In addition to the running slots, there are all sorts of activities lined up for the whole family, such as a mobile science classroom from MadaTech – Israel National Museum of Science, donated by Noble Energy, which will include a mini-exhibition of the museum for children. There will also be a pre-run warm-up session with Orly and Nadav from the Laredet Begadol TV show, a performance by percussion band Tararam on the main stage, color-themed activities, performances, acrobatics, games and much more.
For registration and more information: 073-236-3328 and