Israeli Paralympian Noam Gershony talks disability, going for gold at Montreal Hillel



February 11, 2020

After a helicopter crash, Noam Gershony wasn’t expected to survive. Now, he’s an Israeli Paralympian.

Gershony, 37, spoke to dozens of Jewish students about the accident and winning a gold medal in tennis at a Feb. 4 event at McGill University, co-hosted by Hillel Montreal. His evening talk was funded by the LINK20/Hillel Innovation grant.

The athlete was born into a self-described “typical Israeli family.” At age 18, he was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, where he was trained as a pilot. He described the process as exciting but stressful, noting its rapid pace and emphasison discipline.

“No matter what, I gave them 100%…Surprisingly, I made it through flight school and made my best friends along the way,” Gershony said while proudly showing a graduation photo to the crowd.

However, his excitement faded within weeks of the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. A helicopter crash shattered his body and killed his co-pilot. Suffering from amnesia and multiple broken bones, Gershony entered a recovery period lasting morethan a year. 

Perhaps worse than the physical plain was the mental anguish he experienced when he learned about his comrade’s death, he said. That sent him into an existential crisis.

“I wondered why he died and not me,” Gershony said.

After the crash, Gershony had limited mobility and used a wheelchair. After more than a year of rehabilitation, he began to adjust to his new life.

Gershony said he found a physical outlet in sports, such as learning how to ski without using his legs. 

“The first time I stood up on skis, I fell,” Gershony said. “But if it’s important enough, you’ll keep getting up again.”

Gershony also began playing tennis at a center for disabled veterans. He proved a formidable athlete and began competing in Israel and abroad. Exactly six years after the crash, his achievements in tournaments around the world earned him an invitationto the 2012 London Paralympics.

“Playing in an Olympics is incredible; the things people could do with their disabilities is breathtaking,” Gershony said.

In his talk, Gershony emphasized the importance of setting goals and steadfast determination, which empowered him during this transitional moment in his life. His message resonated with students, including Lauren Cohen.

Cohen, a student at Concordia University, said his story “about making a new life for himself was powerful.” 

The audience watched a video of his 2012 victory in the Quad Singles. The film showed an emotional Gershony draped in an Israeli flag and wearing the gold medal.

“I chose to focus on what I can do,” Gershony said. “Everyone has disabilities. Without mine, I would not have gone to the Olympics.”

Story by Henry Lovgren. Photo by Kylie Huberman.