Israeli Paralympic rower Moran Samuel won her country’s first medal at the 2016 Games, taking third place in women’s 1000-meter single sculls three days into the competition in Rio.
The gold medal went to Great Britain’s Rachel Morris, who set a new Paralympic record time of 5:13.69.
China’s Lili Wang took silver with 5:16.65. Samuel’s bronze was won in the time of 5:17.46.
Samuel, 34, only took up rowing in 2010. In 2012 she came fifth in the London Paralympic event. In 2015 she won gold at the World Cup event in Lake Varese, Italy.
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Moran Samuel had been a member of Israel’s national basketball team until the day in 2006 that she suffered a spinal stroke and became paralyzed in her lower body.
“One morning I was hanging out my laundry,” Samuel recalled. Out of nowhere, she felt “a sudden sharp pain in my back and I couldn’t breathe.”
Samuel called an ambulance and went to lie down. By the time the medical team arrived, she couldn’t move her legs and had to be carried on a stretcher. On the way to the hospital “I kept punching my legs” but couldn’t feel anything, the athlete told Walla News years later. At 24, with a promising basketball career ahead, she had suffered a rare spinal stroke. “In one moment my body was erased.”
The talented athlete had to adapt to a new life, but she didn’t give up her love of sports. In fact, she kept playing basketball with the national wheelchair team and, eventually, took up a solo sport as well. After much persuasion by her life partner (now wife), Limor Goldberg, Samuel took up rowing.
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She does most of her training in Italy, coached by Paula Grizzetti. She also trains at the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv.
Established in 1948 by a Jewish doctor who escaped Nazi Germany, the Paralympics used to be known as “parallel” or “special” Olympics.
In previous years Israel has won a total of 380 Paralympic medals, putting it thirteenth on the list of medal-winning countries.
More than 30 Israeli athletes are competing in the 2016 Paralympics in a range of events including tennis, table tennis, goalball, rowing, sailing and swimming.