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 paratrooper unit, Belachsan, now 27, was near the front of the group when a bomb exploded, paralyzing his left leg.
Some six years later, on July 18, Belachsan competed in the New York City triathlon. A swimmer on the Israeli national paralympics team, Belachsan competed in the swimming portion and in the bicycling event, where he used 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 race, Belachsan was part of a team sponsored by One Family, an organization that provides assistance to Israeli victims of terrorism and their families. Joining him were his brother-in-law, Yeshurun Gavish, 29, and Gavish’s brother-in-law, Shaked Rogovsky, 30, who was 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 minutes before to return to his army base. Six other 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. “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 have 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.”
The New York organizer of the One Family team, Sammy Zack, said his team was inspired by the Israeli participants: “When the training gets tough, having a bigger cause than yourself is helpful.”