True grit

Following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit followed by three other Israeli soldiers during July 2006, Lieutenant Noam Gershony, a pilot of an Apache helicopter in the Israeli Air force, was deployed to the northern border. Along with his copilots, he was briefed on the escalating military situa­tion. To locate the kidnapped soldiers, Israel was sending IDF ground forces into Lebanon with the helicopters to provide support. The beginning of the mission went according to plan, but near midnight, disaster struck. Two helicopters collided thrusting one pilot out of the aircraft killing him  immediately. Noam’s helicopter plummeted and a terrifying 6000 feet and crashed on the ground. His copilot was killed and Noam was critically injured. A rescue chopper  picked him up and rushed him to hospital where he would stay for the next half a year. He was in a bad way. His arms, legs and pelvis were broken and his jaw which was crushed had penetrated his throat, rendering him almost unable to breath. A spinal cord injury had also left him paralyzed in his legs. When he regained consciousness, Noam had no recollection of what had happened or why his jaw was pinned. The prognosis was grim. The way back to any resemblance of life would be an excruciating haul, and to start the journey, he would need to lay on his back and not move for two months before he could even get into a wheelchair. His family broke the news of the death of his fellow soldiers. While still in hospital he would soon meet the bereaved parents which had a huge impact on him. Although life would be hard, Noam was thankful that at least he was alive. This perspective was a lifesaver. It would enable him to cultivate a grateful heart and not fall into self pity. 

As part of his rehabilitation he took up wheelchair tennis. He practiced daily and six years later represented Israel in Prague . He went onto compete all over the world, notching up medals and trophies wherever he played. But it was the 2012 London Paralympic Games where he became a household name. Even though the first few games started off badly for Noam, and he even had the additional misfortune of having to play against his best friend in a match, he fought with true grit and became the first Israeli ever to win the gold. People all over Israel tuned in that day to watch him on the podium and receive his medal. For the first time in history, Israel’s national anthem was played at the Olympics. Our tennis star who had refuted self-pity and victimhood, had not only made his country proud, but caused us all to be so very proud of him. It was no surprise that he received a hero’s welcome when he flew back home. 

As a public speaker, he packs  out venues and with his dry and exquisite humor he always makes his audience laugh. Noam’s life is an example of a life well-lived. He demonstrates that it is not what happens to us which determines who we are, but rather our attitude of how we deal with it.