Matan picked up running as a hobby last year and he’s run a few 5k races. He came to us a few months ago, explaining that he wanted to run a 10k in the Jerusalem marathon and raise money for Shalva. I don’t know where this kid comes up with these ideas…but we went with it. And so, he spent months running up and down the hills of Neve Daniel and battling cramps, while we spent months posting on Facebook that he was raising money and helping him to compose solicitation emails to friends and family. As part of the bar mitzvah runners, he needed to raise 1000 shekel. He ended up raising almost 4500.
He received donations from near and far, all of which were very touching. Someone with whom I went to high school, who has never met Matan, donated to his race. Someone made an anonymous donation to close the gap from 3700 shekel to 4000 shekel – and we still haven’t figured out who this beautiful person is.
And then the race approached, and it was time for the pre-race pasta party put on by Shalva. Now, I have definitive comfort zones, and driving into Jerusalem to neighborhoods that I really don’t know, and driving through massive crowds to find parking, are not within that zone.
But Josh had to leave for the States two days before the race, and I found myself propelled into the position of race-caretaker. So, while Matan left his comfort zone to run his first 10k, I was leaving mine as well. Driving into Jerusalem for the pasta party, I think that the kid in the backseat thought I was a lunatic. Every time that I made a correct turn, according to my Google Map directions, I yelled out, “Oh yeah, we did it! Oh yeah, I rock.” We arrived at the dinner in record time without a single moment of getting lost, and enjoyed a lovely party.
There were three moving speakers, all of whom are worth mentioning. The first speaker was a woman with a Down Syndrome child. She explained how much her world was sent off-center when the baby was born and they realized the challenges that were ahead. Someone told her about Shalva and encouraged her to go there. Shalva was located in a religious neighborhood, and as a Christian woman living in Israel, she was sure that they wouldn’t take her in.
They didn’t even bat an eye.
Then, when she saw the incredible services and the beautiful facilities, she was terrified to ask about the price. And she said she nearly collapsed when she learned that it was all free – and all taken care of by donations. As you climb the mountains tomorrow, she said, think about the mountains that our children who are otherwise-abled climb every day and realize that you, too, will get to the peak.
The second speaker explained that he tried to run the 10k last year and the year before, but that he was severely overweight for both of those races and barely managed to walk most of the way. He felt like a cheater, and vowed that for the 2013 race, he would surmount his obstacle just as the children of Shalva were asked to do every day. And he is now 80 pounds lighter and 6 pants sizes less, and ready to run tomorrow.
Finally, Shalva’s founder, Kalman Samuels, told the story of a concert given once by the famous violinist Yitzchak Pearlman (or as we call him in our family ‘Cousin Yitzchak’, since he is married to Josh’s dad’s first cousin). As he was about to begin the concert, one of the strings on his violin broke. The audience knew what it would mean for him to get up, with his disabilities, get another string and fix the instrument. And as they were holding their breath to see what he would do, he simply began playing the breathtaking tunes with three strings instead of four. Kalman Samuels explained that we can all make beautiful music, whether we have been given the full set of life’s strings, or whether we are required to make certain adaptations along the way.
We left the event that night feeling uplifted and energized. The next morning, Matan went on a bus with Shalva to Jerusalem while I had plans to drive. I was all worked up about finding parking and figuring out where to go. Yes, there were many postings online about which roads were closed and which areas were open for parking, but none of it means anything to me. I know how to get around Jerusalem, but I don’t know road names and I can’t navigate if there is a road block sending me in another direction. So, I took a DEEP breath and headed out with Yehuda at 7:45 in the morning. There was absolutely no traffic and we managed to get to an area that was relatively close to the marathon starting line. Yes! We arrived at the marathon start well before Matan did, and started looking for other Shalva participants. The atmosphere at the starting line was much more playful and festive than what I had expected. The city had hired stilt walkers and clowns who were dancing around, there was an MC and there was music. The Shalva group quickly formed and started yelling Shalva chants and getting the Shalva kids excited.
I actually had no idea what was going on, since I hadn’t paid attention to anything other than the directives to find my way to Jerusalem and to be ready for Matan’s 10k run. It soon became apparent to me that Shalva, and a number of other groups, were about to participate in an 800 meter run with the disabled kids. Fighting back tears, I posed with the Shalva group for pictures and then Yehuda and I ran alongside the kids and enjoyed the 800 meter run. It brought me to tears to watch the Shalva counselors encouraging the kids who were running and enjoying their moment in the sun. There was also a cancer group running alongside us (sorry, I didn’t get their name) and there were many kids in wheelchairs.
It was touching beyond words.
We eventually found Matan and enjoyed hanging out in the festive atmosphere with the rest of the Shalva participants. We saw the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team and, yes, I was willing to swallow my pride and ask them for pictures. The kids were very excited afterwards even if they were mortified when I asked!
|Matan gets ready!|
|Matan and Yehuda with a Beitar Jerusalem player whose name I’m sure I’m supposed to know.|
Then, we got ready for the 10k run. We ran into a number of friends along the way, and enjoyed seeing that so many people were out for the run.
|Mark and Binyamin Sloman join in for the 10K|
|The entire Admoni family comes out (with tshirts they made just for their family!)|
There were approximately 8000 10k runners from what we understood, and when they actually started the run we couldn’t find Matan! Yehuda and I both hoped that he hadn’t gotten swallowed up by the crowd or lost on the way, but we assumed that all was well and we headed to Gan Sacher where the end of the race would be.
|And they’re off…can’t find Matan, but here are other runners starting the 10k|
|and here’s why we couldn’t find Matan….so many runners!|
|There were all sorts of funny and goofy runners joining in!|
Once we entered Gan Sacher, it was like a huge party was going on! There were tons of kiosks for food, for buying sports equipment and for other items. There were also grand stands set up where people were playing drums and encouraging the audience to do so, where they had set up trampolines for audience members to jump on and enjoy and more. We ran into Yarden, who had just finished the marathon, and had a great time giving him kudos for that accomplishment!
Then, we went over to wait for Matan. When the 10k runners came pouring in, I started to panic just a little that we weren’t going to find Matan. But, eventually, there he was, smiling from ear to ear. He finished in one hour and three minutes, got his medal and felt very proud of himself.
I don’t think he could possibly have felt as proud of himself as was his mother, beaming next to him, or his father, waiting eagerly in a hotel in Toronto to hear how it went.
Way to go Matan, and way to go Shalva for creating such an incredible experience, and a way to support a beautiful organization.
Yehuda, Josh and I are all getting out the running shoes to join in next year.