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Israeli Paralympic rower wins silver medal at European championships

38-year-old Moran Samuel finishes 2,000 meter race in 10:17:46 following close battle with rival and friend, Norwegian rower Birgit Skarstein

Moran Samuel smiles after winning the silver medal in the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida, on October 1, 2017. (Screen capture/Daniel Rowing Center)
Moran Samuel smiles after winning the silver medal in the World Rowing Championships in Sarasota, Florida, on October 1, 2017. (Screen capture/Daniel Rowing Center)

Israeli Moran Samuel won a silver medal at the European Rowing Championships in Lake Varese, Italy, on Sunday.

Samuel, 38 completed the women’s Paralympic 2,000-meter race in 10 minutes and 17.46 seconds.

The race saw a tight battle between Samuel and long-time rival and close friend, Norwegian rower Birgit Skarstein, who beat her by less than five seconds.

There was no medal ceremony at this year’s competition due to the pandemic and the medalists instead collected their own awards from an empty podium.

Samuel won her country’s first medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, taking third place in women’s 1000-meter single sculls.

Samuel only took up rowing in 2010. In 2012, she came in fifth at the London Paralympic event and in 2015, she won gold at the World Cup event, also in Lake Varese.

Moran Samuel in her medal-winning race in Rio, September 11, 2016 (IGOR MEIJER, courtesy Daniel Rowing Center)

She had been a member of Israel’s national basketball team until 2006, when she suffered a spinal stroke and became paralyzed in her lower body.

“One morning I was hanging out my laundry,” Samuel recalled in an interview with Walla News after her Rio gold medal win. 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. At 24, with a promising basketball career ahead, doctors told her she had suffered a rare spinal stroke. “In one moment, my body was erased,” she said.

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.

She does most of her training in Italy under coach Paula Grizzetti, but also trains at the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv.

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