Peres blesses wheelchair basketball players

Nineteen European national teams will compete in the tournaments that will be held from September 8-17 in Nazareth.

Peres and wheelchair basketball 311 (photo credit: GO)
Peres and wheelchair basketball 311
(photo credit: GO)
Members of Israel’s wheelchair basketball team who are competing in the European Wheelchair Basketball Championship 2011, which for the first time will be held in Israel, traveled to Jerusalem on Thursday to receive a blessing from President Shimon Peres prior to the commencement of the games in early September.
Nineteen European national teams, of which 12 are men’s and 10 women’s, will compete in the tournaments that will be held from September 8-17 in Nazareth.
The five leading teams in the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships will participate in the London Paralympics in 2012.
Several of Israel’s athletes are members of the IDF Disabled Veterans Association.
Dotan Meishar of Kibbutz Deganya Bet, who followed the example of many members of his kibbutz to become a naval commando, had been a sports enthusiast for as long as he could remember, and loved the challenges involved. But Meishar was seriously injured in the course of a rescue mission, and suffered such severe infection that he had to have his leg amputated. During his first year of rehabilitation, his obsession with sports proved to be therapeutic, especially kayaking, in which the strength of his arms was much more important than the strength of his legs. Fate had decreed that unlike many other amputees who get a prosthesis, his injury was such that he could not have a false leg attached, and he learned to get around with the use of crutches. When it was proposed to him that he take up wheelchair basketball his initial reaction was that he’s not a wheelchair case, and therefore not a suitable candidate.
But he was nonetheless intrigued by the idea of doing something different – so he tried it. Initially it was difficult, but because he had become genuinely interested in basketball, he persevered – and now he’s a champion player and a coach.
Moran Samuel had played basketball before being confined to a wheelchair. Some five or six years ago, she got out of bed with an unbearable pain in her back, and soon after found herself permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Samuel, a child and youth therapist who is studying for her MA in Child Development, was undergoing rehabilitation at Beit Halochem when she saw the men’s wheelchair basketballers in action, and asked if she could join. She discovered that she could play just as well in a wheelchair, as she had done when running across the court. Because there were not enough women to form a women’s team, she played as a member of the men’s team, and often outscored her teammates.
The triumph of the spirit displayed by Meishar and Samuel was also a characteristic of singer Ron Weinrib, 24, who had been a tank commander in Lebanon. While taking his unit through a town, a concrete arch collapsed on his back, causing a major spinal injury that led to paralysis.
Weinrib, who was raised in New York till age 15, had been interested in music since the age of 9 when he acquired his first guitar.
Instead of wallowing in self pity after he was paralyzed, he turned his focus to music, and in addition to being an instrumentalist proved to be a talented singer. He was one of the finalists in the most recent season of A Star is Born. He’s also studying in the entrepreneurship program at The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and has toured the United States extensively on Israel advocacy missions for the Jewish Agency and on fundraising missions on behalf of the Friends of the IDF.
It was hardly surprising that the first song that the wheelchair bound Weinrib chose to sing for Peres and the disabled athletes was “Lo kala hi darkeinu” (Our path isn’t easy). Although their theme song is ’We are the Champions” there is little doubt that “Lo kala hi darkeinu” runs a very close second.
They clapped in time to the melody and joined in the chorus.
Paralympic athletes have brought great pride to Israel, Peres said. In wishing the wheelchair basketballers success, Peres told them, “You are the true heroes.”
Last week, British Ambassador Matthew Gould went to Beit Halochem to meet with some of the disabled athletes, and to talk to them about next year’s Paralympics.
“The London Paralympic Games are going to be huge – 4,200 athletes, playing 20 sports. And London 2012 will be the first Games in which planning for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games has been fully integrated,” he said. “It’s not just the quality of the Games, but the equality of the Games that are important to us.
These are going to be the most accessible Olympic and Paralympic Games ever.”
Paralympic Committee chairman Dani Ben-Abu, said that it had been decided not to hold the upcoming games in the center of the country, but to involve the communities of the Galilee.
“The North must be a partner in this national event,” he said.