Gracious Gershony claims end-of-year award

Gold-medal wheelchair-tennis Paralympian voted as Israel’s Sports Personality of 2012.

Noam Gershony 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Noam Gershony 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Noam Gershony has every reason to be the proudest person on earth.
Yet you would be hard-pressed to find a more modest and down-to-earth sportsman than the London 2012 Paralympic gold medalist in wheelchair-tennis.
You rarely get an athlete talking down his achievements the way Gershony did when The Jerusalem Post spoke to him this week to inform him that he had been chosen by the readers as the Israeli Sports Personality of the Year for 2012.
In fact, Gershony genuinely believes there are others who deserve the accolade far more than he does.
“It is slightly embarrassing because I don’t think that I deserve to be the sports personality of the year,” he told the Post.
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“There are people who underwent a much more significant process and deserve far more recognition than I do. I was lucky that I won the gold medal, but there were amazing athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic delegations that I was honored just to be on the same team with.
“So to receive an award like this is beyond an honor because I feel there are others who deserve it more.”
Gershony edged soccer coach Ran Ben-Shimon, who guided Ironi Kiryat Shmona to an unlikely Premier League championship last season, with just under 30 percent of the vote in the poll. Maccabi Tel Aviv and former Russia coach David Blatt finished in third place ahead of gymnast Alex Shatilov and last year’s winner, windsurfer Lee Korzits.
But it was Gershony who finished at the top of the pack in a year that saw him go from complete anonymity to national hero.
“I would like to thank everyone who voted for me,” said Gershony, who won the gold medal in the Quad wheelchair-tennis tournament in London. “This is a great honor. It is strange to me that people still remember my gold medal. Paralympic sports aren’t really that popular so it is a great honor to be remembered and receive this tribute.”
Gershony’s story provides a unique example of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
The 29-year-old’s moment of glory arrived just six years after he almost lost his life during the 2006 Lebanon War.
Gershony suffered serious injuries when his Apache helicopter crashed to the ground near Ramot Naftali after a collision with another helicopter.
Gershony and co-pilot Ran Yehoshua Kochva were making their way towards the Lebanese border to assist IDF troops on the ground.
Kochva was killed, while Gershony was rushed to hospital with lifethreatening injuries.
He underwent a long and arduous recovery process and his crowning moment arrived on September 8 when he claimed a 6-3, 6-1 win over world No. 1 David Wagner to become the first Israeli to win a Paralympic gold since 2004.
“When I was told about the option of setting the Olympic criteria it sounded ridiculous to me,” said Gershony, who also won a bronze medal in the Quad wheelchair doubles tournament with Shraga Weinberg.
“And even when I qualified, I only came to the Paralympics for the special experience and in the hope of representing Israel with as much honor as possible.
“I play sport for fun and for the soul. I never started to take part in sport to compete and to win medals.”
Gershony, who won the French Open at Roland Garros earlier this year to rise to become the world’s No. 2 ranked player, a position he still occupies today, admitted that the gold medal changed his life, although he hopes it didn’t change him as a person.
“The gold medal resulted in all kinds of situations I wouldn’t have expected to happen to me had I not won the medal, but I try to keep everything in proportion,” he said.
“It is fun to win a medal and to represent Israel in honor and to have the national anthem played for you, but I’m still the same person. I love the same things and do the same things.
It has changed my everyday life, but I hope that it hasn’t changed me.”
Gershony did not enjoy all the publicity and attention he received after his triumph, but he does acknowledge the advantages of fame.
“I really enjoyed my previous anonymity and privacy and I lost that slightly, but now that it is back I can also enjoy the small things that come with the publicity,” said Gershony, who has become a popular public speaker both in Israel and abroad.
“I have been traveling and sharing my story with people. I’m not trying to change people’s lives, but I’ve been told that people do draw strength and inspiration from my story and that is nice to know.”
Gershony was as surprised as anyone at scaling the top of the podium in London.
“I came to the Paralympics with very low expectations,” he revealed.
“I had some previous success, but these were my first Paralympics and I didn’t have that much international experience. The Paralympics are also very stressful so I didn’t know what to expect and how things would work. I was very lucky.”
While luck plays a part in any sporting feat, there is little doubt that Gershony was as deserving as any athlete who won a medal at the 2012 Games.
“It is a feeling that is hard to describe,” he said of the moment he realized he had won the tournament.
“It was an amazing experience. It is difficult to describe the force of the emotions. It was something I never previously experienced and will probably never experience again.”
Gershony has plenty more years of potential success ahead of him, but he is currently enjoying his time away from the court, something he has fully earned.
“The period before the Paralympics and the Games themselves were very intense and full of pressure so I needed a bit of a break from competitive tennis,” he explained. “I’m still not making any big decisions ahead of Rio 2016. At the moment I feel good just playing for fun and not training for a competition.
“You should have a craving for the game, which I don’t have at the moment due to the intense period and the amazing unexpected achievement,” he added.
“They say that the hunger always returns to a competitive athlete at some stage, but we’ll see.”