Paralympians to take London by storm

By Danny Caro, August 23, 2012

We talk to some of the Jewish Paralympians from around the globe

Country: Australia
Sport: Wheelchair tennis

As a sports-mad child, Adam Kellerman loved playing football and ice-hockey, but had little interest in tennis.

But after surviving cancer, the 22-year-old from Sydney has turned his attention to wheelchair tennis.

Next week he will represent his country at the Paralympic Games, playing in both the singles and doubles events.

At the age of 13, when he was a pupil at a Jewish school, doctors discovered a tumour in his right hip and he began chemotherapy. He had a partial hip replacement but it then got infected and they had to remove it completely. Today, he can walk only with the help of a stick and even doing so causes him significant pain.

Two years later he went to a wheelchair sports day. “They were playing basketball which I didn’t really like,” he said. “One of the guys running it told me he was a tennis coach and I went to a beginner’s class. Pretty much from when I started I knew that was what I wanted to do. Ranked second in Australia and 29 globally, he started playing in junior tournaments and has represented Australia on the Men’s team for the last three years.

Two years ago he won every match at the 2010 World Team Cup in Turkey without dropping a set.
Kellerman began the year ranked 61 in the world and has spent the last six months battling to go beyond the cut off point of 48.

He has combined a rigorous training schedule with studying physiology at the University of Arizona, although he put this on hold to prepare for the Paralympics.

The athlete, whose father is president of the Northside Maccabi Football Club, said the teams to beat were France and Holland. “They have very good teams,” he said. “It’s a very tough level of competition.

“When I was a teenager I never expected to play sport again. It’s definitely a dream come true. Sometimes I think about it and I can’t believe it.”


Country: Israel
Sport: Shooting

Doron Shaziri will be carrying the Israeli flag at the opening ceremony. The 45-year-old, who will be competing in two men’s rifle events, said: “This will be one of the most exciting moments of my life and if I can come home with a gold medal as well then that will be fantastic.”

This will be Shaziri’s fifth Paralympics having competed in every Games since Atlanta in 1996. To date he has come home with four silver medals and three bronze but a gold has so far eluded him.

“It’s just been one of those things,” he said. “I’ve been unlucky. I’ve come so close and I’ve also been world champion. It’s just a matter of putting together the right performance at the right time. I believe it will happen.”

Shaziri, a sniper in the Israeli army, lost a leg in Lebanon in 1987 after treading on a landmine. He said: “I’ve always been a very positive person. Even when I sat there in Lebanon waiting for treatment, I thought, well that’s part of my leg gone, but they’ll be able to make me a prosthetic leg.”

For many years Shaziri played wheelchair basketball but in the mid-1990’s he took up shooting and has never looked back. “I’ve got great powers of concentration,” he said. “When you’re shooting you forget about everything else.”

Married with two children, he has a custom-made wheelchair import business. “I don’t think this will be my last Paralympics. It has been going very well in training and I think I can win gold. But if not, there is always Rio in 2016.”


Country: Israel
Sport: Hand-cycling

Pascale finished eighth in the rowing event at the Beijing Paralympics, but in London she has changed sport to hand-cycling. “The import thing is to compete but it would be great to come home with a medal,” she said. “I’m confident I can win at least a bronze.”

Born in Paris in 1967, she was involved in a horrific accident aged 17 when she slipped off a railway platform and her feet were trapped under a train. Both legs had to be amputated. Nevertheless, she went through with her plans to move to Israel where she volunteered for the army. She now works as a journalist, has made film documentaries, including one about the Paralympics in Sydney, and lectures on motivation, specialising in coping with crisis and pressure.

She said: “People must understand that the most difficult thing is always taking the first step – getting started. Getting up in the morning and doing something good. So many people give up before they start. You must flow with your heart and just do things.”

It’s a formula that has worked well for Bercovitch and helped her overcome her handicap. She loves extreme sports, especially mountain climbing. In London she will compete for three medals: the 16km time trial, the 48km road race and the 18km mixed relay, along with Kobi Leon and Nati Gruberg.

Married with two children, she said: “A medal is an important goal for me but I already have two gold medals in my two daughters Eden and Mika.”


Country: Israel
Sport: Swimming

Inbal Pezaro will be going in search of a sixth Paralympic medal when she takes to the swimming pool at the Aquatics Centre.

Pezaro, 25, who competed in Athens and Beijing, is one of Israel’s top hopes. Born with a blood problem in her spinal cord which causes a disability involving in her lower limbs, she took up swimming at the age of five and never looked back.

At the age of 14, Pezaro won silver in the 100m breaststroke at the World Championships in Italy before winning the same event a year later in Argentina.

As a 17-year-old and the youngest member of the Israeli Olympic squad, she hit the headlines after claiming silver in the 100m breaststroke and bronze in the 200m freestyle at the 2004 Athens games.

Her success continued in 2006 at the World Championships in South Africa where she won gold in the 100m breaststroke as well as finishing second in both the 100m and 200m freestyle.

Four years ago, she was one of the shining stars as she won three silvers in Beijing, accounting for half of Israel’s total medal haul.

And with Israel’s able-bodied athletes having failed so dismally, the nation will be hoping Pezaro can bring a smile to their faces and finally win Olympic gold.

Profiles by Jennifer Lipman, Simon Griver and James Masters

Last updated: 3:46pm, August 23 2012