Thirty-seven-year-old Matukoh Rada, from Beit She’an, has known quite a few battles in his life: the long, treacherous trek on foot, at the age of six, from Ethiopia to Sudan, which his baby sister did not survive; the terrorist attack that killed three of his company comrades in Givati and left him paralyzed from the waist down; and the battle to gain his life back. After getting married and becoming a father to twins, he is preparing for his next battle: the wheelchair fencing competition at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
“I love challenges, taking something and going with it as far as possible,” he says.
His injury did not prevent him from becoming an athlete. His legs are lifeless but his back is erect, and on his sturdy arm is the flag of the State of Israel, which he dreams of representing at the Paralympic Games. The active backing of the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization and its Beit Halochem Rehabilitation, Sports and Recreation Center can make this possible.
Recently the team returned from the World Cup in Poland, where Rada surprised everyone at his first international competition.
“I was supposed to come for the experience. Victor [the coach] told me to try and fence a little, see how far I can go, I will surely learn something,” laughs Rada. At the end of the day, he had won three competitions.
One of them was against the current European Champion. “Had I known, I probably could not have beaten him,” Rada says.
Rada and his friends have not yet qualified for the Tokyo games but they are working relentlessly to get there. “It’s definitely a different kind of a battle,” he says.
Twenty-seven year old Linor Kelman, who was born and lives in Beit Shemesh with her mother and grandmother, was seriously injured by a bus when she was a soldier on her way to base. She doesn’t remember anything from the accident.
Kelman’s spine, head, and spleen were injured. However, it is the irreversible injury to her middle ear, which damaged her equilibrium, that prevents her from standing on her own. She does not know if and how she can ever live or stand on her own one day, but the injury did not hurt her desire to engage in fencing, which had attracted her since she was a child.
Her mother was a fencer, and when Kelman was a child her mother would take her along to training. From an early age, Linor dreamed of fencing like her mother and when she was offered the opportunity to try fencing as part of a rehabilitation program at Jerusalem’s Beit Halochem she decided this was her chance. She began to train but for fear of hurting her back and losing her balance she took it easy at first. Gradually, she grew stronger both in body and in spirit and fencing eventually replaced her physiotherapy sessions. Once she realized she had the ability, she began to think about competing. The first time she was offered the chance to compete overseas she was extremely excited.
Kelman has been competing for four years. She made it to the quarterfinals at the European Championship in Italy and came in 6th place. She is ranked 9th in the world, and her dream is to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games representing Israel. Victor Glaz is her official coach at Jerusalem’s Beit Halochem and in Modiin she is also coached by Dima Podolsky, both of whom believe in her and push her toward success.
Wheelchair fencing was a popular sport in Israel in the 70s and 80s but over the years has disappeared almost completely. It was only two years ago, at the initiative of the Beit Halochem centers, that coach Victor Glaz, himself a former fencer, was invited to work with a group of Zahal Disabled Veterans. He is convinced that with hard work, the team of fencers can qualify for the Paralympic Games.
During competitions, the fencing wheelchairs are fastened to the floor and only the upper body is enabled free movement. A white cloth covers the legs and the wheelchair.
At the fencing hall of Jerusalem’s Beit Halochem, they are already frantically training for the Paralympics, fighting hard to secure their place representing Israel at the Tokyo Games.