Winners on wheels

Tel Aviv Marathon will include 30-km hand cycle race. It’s a sport that is giving disabled competitors renewed confidence, a new lease on life.

Esther Shtorchan hand cycle 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Esther Shtorchan hand cycle 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eleven years ago, Ora Perlshtein’s life was turned on its head.
The now 60-year-old Tel Aviv resident had her right leg amputated as well as suffering serious injuries to her left leg and one of her eyes after being hit by a motorbike while crossing Derech Namir in her hometown.
Next Friday, Perlshtein will return to Derech Namir, this time as a competitor in a 30-kilometer hand cycle race, one of seven events to be held throughout the city as part of the Tel Aviv Marathon.
Over 13,000 people will be participating in the races, but only around a dozen women will be competing in the hand cycle event.
Hand cycling has become a popular sport among the disabled across the world in recent years. Most hand cycles are tricycle in form and are powered by the arms rather than the legs, as on a bicycle, allowing even those paralyzed from the waist down to get a full aerobic workout in the open air.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity after her accident, Perlshtein went in search of an activity which would empower her despite her disability and she found exactly what she was looking for in the hand cycle.
“Following the accident, I came to Beit Halohem and I fell in love with the hand cycle after being recommended to give it a try,” she said. “The hand cycle gets you out into the open air and it gives you a great feeling of independence.
It is a sport which is not only good for you but is also a lot of fun.”
Unlike Perlshtein, Esther Shtorchan, 55, has had to cope with disability throughout her life, becoming paralyzed in her right leg at the age of 18 months due to polio.
Shtorchan took part in virtually every sport open to her as a child, but rode her first hand cycle just eight years ago. She has since become Israel’s top female hand cyclist, representing the country in international championships.
“Eight years ago, I underwent hip surgery,” she said. “After that, my health improved and I tried the hand cycle. As soon as I got on the hand cycle, I really liked it. I trained and trained and improved a lot and have competed in many races, including the World Championships. I’m now a real addict.
“Apart from maybe swimming, the hand cycle is the only activity that can give a disabled person a true workout. I can’t run, but this is the closest thing to it. It’s just fantastic. I don’t think that there is another sport which takes so much out of the body.”
The hand cycle revolution in Israel was initiated by Etgarim, a non-profit organization, founded in 1995.
The first six hand cycles were brought to Israel in 1998 and the first activities were held at Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv.
In July 2003, the Etgarim Cycle Center was inaugurated in Ganei Yehoshua, serving children and adults who ride tandem bikes and handbikes.
The first hand cycles for children were purchased in 2003 and even quadriplegics with hand injuries have since taken part in Etgarim’s activities.
Many of those racing the 30-km. Tel Aviv Marathon course first got on a hand cycle thanks to Etgarim; but Perlshtein and Shtorchan are no longer beginners and will have little trouble completing in next Friday’s race after previously taking part in events of 100 km. and more. Nevertheless, Perlshtein is still looking forward to competing in her hometown and is hoping to record as fast a time as possible.
“I always get excited before every event,” she said. “I train at least four days a week, and it is no longer physically difficult for me to complete the course. The only difficulty is trying to do it as quickly as possible.”
Apart from her personal goals in the competition, Perlshtein hopes to achieve something far more significant by racing through the streets of Tel Aviv.
“I have a very powerful message for disabled women. This is an ideal sport for them. It is wonderful and gives you a sense of independence and security other sports don’t give you,” she stressed.
“When a person suddenly becomes disabled, he feels like his whole world has come crashing down. He doesn’t know what to do next. The hand cycle gives you a sense of confidence and takes you to places you would not have been able to get to without it. It brings me great joy and is a true love.
“I really want other disabled women to try it. I can say that it made a significant change in my life.”
Shtorchan echoed Perlshtein’s sentiment. “Maybe disabled women have more difficulties and fears than men,” she answered when asked why there will be at least five times more men than women participating in the hand cycle race in Tel Aviv. “You need to want to do sport and cope with your disability.
You need to give it a shot and see that it is simply fun. “hope more women give it a try.
“I think that sport does wonders, especially for disabled women. The ability to get something out of your body, which you weren’t aware you had in you, not only gives something to your body but also to your soul. I really think that women should cast their fears aside and go for it.”
As always, it will be the winners of the full marathon run who grab all the headlines and prize money, with the first-place finishers to receive NIS 15,000.
However, the true winners next Friday will be those men and women who race the 30-km. hand cycle course, overcoming the prejudices of the world around them as well as their own disabilities to show us the true strength of the human spirit.