In the aftermath of the devastating helicopter crash that killed his co-pilot, Noam Gershony spent the time recovering from life-threatening injuries wondering whether he would ever play sport again.
Five years later, the shy 29-year-old is at the centre of Israel’s wheelchair tennis revolution — and returns home with at least one Paralympic medal.
As glorious sunshine beat down on the Olympic Park’s courts on Tuesday afternoon, Noam soaked up the cheers of dozens of Israel supporters in the stands as he secured a place in the semi-finals.
He was due to play team-mate Shraga Weinberg on Thursday [after the JC went to press], with the winner getting a shot at gold and the loser competing again for bronze.
Weinberg had earlier secured perhaps Israel’s greatest ever wheelchair tennis victory, beating Britain’s Peter Norfolk, the reigning double Paralympic champion, in a three-set thriller.
On Wednesday, Gershony and Weinberg combined to win bronze in the doubles. They collected their medals wearing black armbands to mark the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.
The men’s success means Israel’s tennis squad will return home with a medal haul far exceeding expectations.
Speaking after Tuesday’s historic wins, team coach Kobi Weiner said he was stunned by the magical week at London 2012.
“Shraga has been at two Paralympics before and lost in the quarter finals both times. He beat the Paralympic champion to set up the derby against Noam. It is still a shock how well it has gone here,” he said.
“To go home with these medals from the tennis is a very good result. We have a lot of fans in England and having them here to support us, as well as a big crowd from our clubs who have travelled here – it is like being at home.”
Noam Gershony’s rise to Paralympic success has been both rapid and unexpected. He was seriously injured in 2007 when the IDF Apache helicopter he was flying crashed en route to Lebanon.
During the years of rehabilitation that followed, physiotherapists suggested he try wheelchair tennis to aid the recovery of his damaged limbs.
Noam’s parents and sister travelled to London to watch him compete. After Tuesday’s 6-1 6-1 victory over American Bryan Barten, Noam’s father, Moshe, recalled the moment an IDF officer arrived at the family’s home near Tel Aviv to break the news of the crash.
“When you hear that knock on the door at 3am, you know that something very bad has happened. They took us to the hospital and said the situation with Noam was critical. We had to wait about a week before they told us he was almost out of danger.”
Gradually Noam’s health improved and, with the tennis rehab going well, he could see a way forward. But he never anticipated sporting success.
“Everything happened so fast for me, progressing up the rankings and making it into the Games six months ago. It really took me by surprise,” he said after his quarter-final victory.
In Moshe Gershony’s eyes, his son is already a champion: “For us the main thing is that he is healthy, he can do almost everything he did before the accident, he even does water-skiing. Noam has come back to life.
“We are so happy. He has come from the very bottom to the peak of the Olympics. Noam has gone from darkness to glory.”