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Israel’s first-ever Winter Paralympian hits the slopes at Beijing Games

Sheina Vaspi, finishing 15th in giant slalom, is forced to skip the slalom event after it was rescheduled for Saturday, when the religiously observant athlete does not compete

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Israel's Sheina Vaspi competes in the women's giant slalom standing alpine skiing event at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre in Yanqing during the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games on March 11, 2022. (WANG Zhao / AFP)
Israel's Sheina Vaspi competes in the women's giant slalom standing alpine skiing event at the Yanqing National Alpine Skiing Centre in Yanqing during the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games on March 11, 2022. (WANG Zhao / AFP)

Sheina Vaspi, Israel’s first-ever Winter Paralympian, hit the ski slopes in Beijing on Friday morning, making history for the Jewish state.

Vaspi finished 15th out of 22 competitors in the women’s standing giant slalom in alpine skiing, with a combined time of 2:41.18 for her two runs.

“I’m very happy and proud to be here and to make history and to represent Israel,” Vaspi said in a video message following her run. “Please God we’ll meet again in 2026 with much better results.”

While Vaspi had hoped to compete in multiple events at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics, she ultimately took part only in the giant slalom, after the slalom was rescheduled from Sunday to Saturday — when Vaspi does not compete due to Shabbat observance — over weather conditions. She is slated to return to Israel on Tuesday.

“Sheina my dear, you made us all happy tonight,” said Eli Birnbaum, chairman of the Israeli Paralympic Committee. “We’re so proud of you. You were a pioneer, who proved your talent, determination, value and courage. You have become a role model and inspiration for so many.”

Vaspi, who grew up in a Chabad Hasidic family in the northern town of Yesud HaMa’ala, has always maintained her religious observance alongside her athleticism, even battling sports authorities to allow her to compete in a skirt.

Israeli Alpine Skiing Paralympian Sheina Vaspi after her giant slalom run on March 11, 2022 in Beijing. (Israel Paralympic Committee)

“I think that is what is beautiful about Chabad, that they don’t divide between the two worlds: the spiritual and the physical, the Torah and the outside world,” Vaspi told Haaretz in a recent interview. “The fact that I came from a Chabad home that allowed me to do this — I feel like I’ve won. But of course, there are still challenges.”

Vaspi, 20, lost her leg in a car accident when she was three years old. She didn’t take up skiing until age 15, training with the Erez Foundation, a non-profit in northern Israel that was founded by veterans of the military’s alpine special forces unit and search and rescue specialists.

After her first giant slalom run on Friday, Vaspi told NBC Sports that “if more women or religious people want to do sport and be religious, I want to show it’s possible to do that.”

Luke Tress contributed to this report.

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