There aren’t too many Israeli sportsmen or women who have realistic aims of becoming a world record holder, but marathon amputee runner Eitan Hermon has set his sights on becoming exactly that.
Running since the age of ten, he joined the Galil running group as a teenager where he would run approximately 7km a day, before he joined the army when turning 18. After his service, he returned to competitive racing where he completed several 10km races in 35 minutes – making a name for himself in the sport by winning the likes of the Tiberias Marathon.
However, his world was about to take a drastic turn. Enlisting into the reserves when the Second Lebanon War broke out in 2006, the tank he was travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb and turned over on itself. And it was when he was lying on the stretcher, waiting to be taken away to the hospital that he uttered the words that would prove to serve another changing point in his life: “I will run a marathon again”.
Doctors tried for a year to save his limb as only a small part of his leg had been injured. However, knowing that he would walk on crutches for the rest of his life with it – but not run which is his passion, he decided to have his leg amputated which would enable him to run a marathon again, and from there his long journey began.
“I wanted it so much – to run again,” he tells the Jewish News. “Lying there on the stretcher spurred me on and the thought of being able to run again made me strong. I felt that I could do it and did whatever I could – going to the gym, cycling, whatever I could to achieve it.”
Four months after having his leg amputated, he started running with a special prosthetic leg designed for running, a year later he got a running leg. “In Israel there are no running legs – they’re not manufactured,” he explains. “I had the first leg they ever made in Israel, it wasn’t a good one, but was better than nothing. “Fifteen months after my accident, I took part in my first race – a 10km race in Tel Aviv which I completed in 38 minutes. I did a half-marathon at the 2009 Maccabiah – and then decided to run in the Tiberias Marathon – which also coincided with the birth of my daughter during the run itself!” That race also saw him make history as he became the first Israeli amputee to complete a marathon. Finishing the Berlin Marathon last year in a time of 3:02:14 meant he became the world’s second-fastest amputee runner, though he makes a point in saying: “My dream is to break the record at the London Marathon next year.”
His first visit to London was for the purpose of getting fitted out with a second running leg. Having run five marathons on his other leg, he currently holds the record for 10km with a time of 37:42 and hopes the new leg – which comes at a cost of £20,000 – will take him ‘to the next level’ in his marathon running. His trip was organised by Tikvot, an organisation which rehabilitates terror victims and IDF wounded soldiers through sport. Director Simone Farbstein said: “We’ve been with him since he got injured. Their [athletes] whole world changes in one second. One minute they’re in the army, most of them are young boys in the elitist unit who were very active and sporty, the next minute they’re lying in hospital, confined to a bed for months. They don’t know what’s going to happen with their lives, their whole wold has changed, their self-confidence – everything is on the ground., Tikvot go to the hospital, hold their hand, tell them that we can rehabilitate them and that their lives can change again. And for us to see someone running with an Israeli flag and Tikvot on the flag is amazing. Not many amputees run marathons, when he’s running alongside the fully-able bodied runners, everyone cheers him on, telling him what an inspiration he is.”
And thankful for their involvement, Eitan says: “Only Tikvot had the platform and the ability to help me achieve my dreams and records. Other organisations weren’t open to helping me because it wasn’t a Paralympic category – only Tikvot were there to help me and went outside of the box to help me.”
A man full of ambition, he tried out his new leg for the first time at this past weekend’s 5km race in the Maccabi GB Community Fun Run, and is now aiming to go all the way to the top. “Currently, long-distance running for Para-athletics is only for those people in a wheelchair, I hope this will change,” he says. “The first goal is to break a world record for amputees in my category, I’d like to do it at the Berlin and London Marathon, which would then bring me on to the world championships in Qatar next year. Maybe then they will decide to open the category for the Rio Games in 2016 – I want a medal in Rio.” And insisting Tikvot will be behind him every step of the way, Farbstein says: “We are sponsoring him all the way to wherever he goes – be it Rio or a World championships” • For more information on Tikvot, visit: www.tikvot.org.il