Six years after suffering debilitating injuries in the Second Lebanon War, and with less than two years of training, Noam Gershony took the gold medal on Saturday in wheelchair tennis at London's 2012 Paralympics.
After the Israeli Olympic delegation returned last month without winning any medals, Gershony's gold was the Paralympic team's eighth medal this year, and the first gold medal for the country since the 2004 Athens Olympics. To win the medal, Gershony defeated American player David Wagner, ranked first in the world, 1:6 and 3:6.
Gershony was an Apache helicopter pilot in the Israel Air Force when he was seriously injured in a crash in 2006. He was paralyzed in the accident and underwent an extended recovery and acclimation process. He began training for wheelchair tennis a year and a half ago, and has now made it all the way to winning a gold medal in the quad category, the highest level of disability.
"It is an incredible feeling. I didn't expect this to happen and I didn't think I would be so overwhelmed on the podium," Gershony said after his victory. "I was injured in the army, I gave my body to the state and I am happy to represent it. I am proud to be Israeli and am happy to be the reason they played [Israel's national anthem] 'Hatikvah' for so many people."
Gershony will carry Israel's flag at the closing ceremony at the Paralympics, and afterward will go home with two medals, after having won a bronze medal with Shraga Weinberg in doubles wheelchair tennis.
State officials praised Gershony's victory. President Shimon Peres called him Saturday night and told him he "gave the nation and the people a heartwarming surprise. You proved you were as skilled on the court as you were in the sky, skilled at both tennis and the Apache. We are proud of you."
Gershony also received a phone call from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I was very moved by your victory," Netanyahu told him. "The State of Israel embraces you for your incredible achievement. You represent a victory of the spirit over all the obstacles that our reality creates. This is a gold for you and for the nation."