Disabled sailors win team gold
Israel’s disabled sailing team won the gold medal at the World Championship of the International Federation of Disabled Sailors in Weymouth.
At the end of 11 rounds of gruelling competition on the South Coast, Dror Cohen, Benny Vexler and Arnon Efrati won the three-person Sonar class ahead of Great Britain’s John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, whom they overtook going into the final race.
Cohen, Vexler and Efrati won gold in the 2004 Paralympics. “My crew were amazing. I’m so happy, for us and for Israel,” said Cohen, speaking after the trio proudly sang the Hatikvah.
“We have been second twice in this competition, we won the gold medal at the Paralympics but to win the World Championship is something very special, especially as there are so many good sailors around. I think we’ll be a strong competitor for the Paralympics.”
The triumph took place at the same venue as the Paralympics in a year’s time, which will also mark 20 years since Cohen, then a 24-year-old fighter pilot cadet – lost his legs after he was flung out of an army vehicle going between bases. He was asleep during the accident and “awoke, literally, as another person”. Vexler lost an arm during the first Lebanon War as did Efrati in the Yom Kippur.
Inspired by what he saw in England when meeting a disabled athlete, Cohen co-founded Etgarim, a nonprofit disabled sports association, 16 years ago.
He said: “Before it was founded there was no provision in Israel for disabled athletes to try more extreme sports. We now have a framework to enable all standard of disabled athletes – including mentally disabled – to try any sport.”
Cohen has also competed in the Dakar Rally. He said: “As someone new to disabled sports, it takes time to adjust. You never accept it but you learn to live with it. You choose to live your life as best you can.
“As a paraplegic you learn to do everything from scratch. I used extreme sports to help me through those first few years. I made water-skiing my sport after a trip to London in 1994. I fell in love with the water. I also tried skiing but didn’t want to be on a mountain in Austria for nine months a year. So I tried sailing – something I could do to a world-class level – while based in Tel Aviv.”