NEW YORK (JTA) — Just six months before the end of his Israeli army service, Elad Belachsan suffered a life-changing injury in a Palestinian attack.
On a mission in the West Bank city of Nablus with his paratroopers unit, Belachsan, now 27, was near the front of the group when a bomb exploded, paralyzing his left leg.
Next week, some six years later, Belachsan will be competing in the New York City triathlon. A swimmer on the Israeli national paralympics team, Belachsan will compete in the swimming portion and in the bicycling event, where he will use a hand-powered bicycle.
“It’s a great challenge, to see the limits of your body and to extend them,” Belachsan said. “Since I can’t walk normally, I am always looking for new challenges to show myself that my body is able to do this.”
In the July 18 triathlon, Belachsan will be part of a team sponsored by One Family, an organization that provides assistance to Israeli victims of terrorism and their families. Joining him will be his brother-in-law, Yeshurun Gavish, 29, and Gavish’s brother-in-law, Shaked Rogovsky, 30, who has been their trainer in Israel.
Gavish, too, has been scarred by terrorism. In 2002, he lost his his parents, oldest brother and grandfather when a terrorist broke into his home in the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh and shot them dead.
A soldier at the time, Gavish had left the house just minutes before to return to his army base at the end of the Passover break. His other six siblings escaped injury by running upstairs and climbing down a ladder that neighbors had propped up against the house when they heard the gunshots.
“The experience was very difficult and will affect me for my whole life,” Gavish told JTA.
“We take it day by day,” he said. “It has been very difficult to keep the family together without parents, and it’s difficult to lead a normal life, to work, study, raise children.”
In 2006, Gavish was involved in another attack. He disarmed a terrorist, but not before one was killed and four were seriously injured.
Gavish said sports has helped him to deal with his loss. The New York City triathlon, he said, “is an opportunity to feel normal and get out of the sadness. And it’s also therapeutic.”
Belachsan said athletics help him combat the feeling of disability. At the time of the attack, he said, he was a soldier who “felt like I could do everything and that everything was possible. Suddenly I lost the ability in one second, and sports helps me feel that I am strong.”
One Family is sponsoring Belachsan and Gavish’s trip to New York.
It will be Belachsan’s first time in the city. He says he is excited about the trip and sharing the experience with his brother-in-law. Though he is an experienced paralympic swimmer, he has never competed in a hand-powered bicycling event.
The New York organizer of the One Family team, Sammy Zack, said his team, whose members have been training for the triathlon over a period of 18 weeks, is motivated by the Israeli participants.
“The fact that there are people in Israel who are victims and are using the training to get back into normal life is very inspirational,” Zack said. “When the training gets tough, having a bigger cause than yourself is helpful.”