Dis­abled sailors win team gold

The Jewish Chronicle - - Sport - BY JAMES MARTIN To win the world ti­tle is some­thing spe­cial

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.”

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