Israel’s ‘Marathon Minyan’


As national chairman of Beit Halochem, Israel’s organization for disabled veterans, Moshe Matalon has for several years encouraged members to take up hand cycling as a form of recreation and therapy.

This year he is joining them here.

Matalon, who was injured in an accident as a young private in the paratroops shortly before the Yom Kippur War in 1973, losing the use of both legs and taking up life in a wheelchair, will be part of a 10-member delegation of disabled Israelis who will enter the New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 5. The "Marathon Minyan" will be hosted by Friends of Israel Disabled Veterans and will mark the first appearance of such disabled Israelis in the prestigious race.

Hand cyclers compete in specially outfitted vehicles.

Matalon, 53, went to watch some Beit Halochem members working out a few years ago and said, "Wow, I like it. Maybe I’ll try it," he said in a telephone interview. Training in the parks of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, he has entered a few races, but New York’s marathon "is the main one."

The Israeli delegation, nine men and one woman who range in age from 30 to 77, will be accompanied by three coaches and two physiotherapists. Like Matalon (who earned a degree in criminology from Bar-Ilan University and has competed in the Paralympics) they are accomplished athletically, academically and professionally.

"We love challenges. You know the Israelis," he said. "Without challenges, you cannot run."

All the delegation members, including people injured in terrorist attacks, take part in the programs offered by Beit Halochem’s four centers in Israel, which sponsor a variety of rehabilitation and social services. After the marathon, they plan to visit a local rehabilitation center and see a Broadway play, Matalon said.

Matalon, who was the only member of his unit injured in the 1973 road accident, said he decided immediately "to have a normal life."

"I push myself," said the married father of four children. "There are two choices in life," he said: you give up, or you don’t give up. "I chose the better choice."

Because his injury occurred before the Yom Kippur War, he was in rehab while his comrades were fighting: which may have saved his life. "I lost 25 friends."