Disabled IDF veterans race through Jerusalem

Accompanied by police motorcycle escort, some 200 handicapped IDF veterans race from the President’s Residence to Beit Halohem.

Handicapped IDF soldiers race 370 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Handicapped IDF soldiers race 370
(photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Accompanied by a police motorcycle escort, some 200 handicapped IDF veterans raced from the President’s Residence to Beit Halohem (House of the Warrior) on Thursday, in phase two of what is intended to be an annual tradition.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Haim Ronen, who heads the IDF Handicapped Veterans Association, recounted that three years ago, there had been a decision to devote the week of Hanukka to activities on behalf of disabled IDF veterans, with the aim of strengthening their connections to the army and in recognition of their courage.
Two years ago, the veterans’ association and Beit Halohem introduced a 10-km. torch relay for disabled soldiers to encourage their interest in sports and their spirit of competition.
Among those who showed up at the President’s Residence on Thursday was cyclist Kobi Leon, who won a silver medal in the London Paralympics – and would have won another, said Ronen, if one of the tires on his bike hadn’t burst in the last stretch of the race. Ronen was confident that Leon would come home with more medals from the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
In saluting the veterans, all of whom received rehabilitation therapies, including sports at Beit Halohem facilities in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, President Shimon Peres shook hands with nearly all of them, making special efforts to reach those at the rear of the group.
“I think that all of you deserve a medal because you fought two wars – one, which was brief, and in which you were wounded, and now the second war against your injuries, which you will have to fight for all your lives,” he said.
The president commended the veterans for their courage, resilience and refusal to allow their disabilities to triumph over them. He was convinced that it was this attitude that had enabled them to stay alive.
“That’s something that makes all of you heroes,” he said. “We love you and we are proud of you.”
Then, asking if they were ready to race and receiving an affirmative reply, he shouted, “Go!” The cyclists, riding two- and three-wheeled bikes, were the first to leave, followed by people in wheelchairs and on scooters, and then the runners, though some lingered to be photographed with Peres.
On the previous evening, several of those present had participated in a tribute to the Israeli Paralympic team and a final rundown of achievements at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, where the resilience Peres mentioned was apparent.
At that event, which took place in a basement area of the hotel, Gold-medalist Noam Gershony – the Apache helicopter pilot who was critically wounded in a plane crash during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – came in on his crutches and refused to use the elevator, saying he would walk instead. Several of his colleagues followed his example. Once downstairs in the reception area, Gershony did not take the weight off his legs, but stood for most of the time talking to friends and acquaintances.