The relationship between Asaf, an IAF career officer and Avi, a blind exceptional athlete, began coincidentally. Today, they will run together to the Paralympics in Rio
A dream. Almost everyone knows the feeling – an urge to be active in order to succeed and make it come true. Avi Solomon, who became blind at the age of 16 and Asaf’s, a career officer in the IAF, story began from someone else’s dream. “I met a woman whose dream was to run with a blind man”, Solomon shared.
Avi decided to accept a request that would ultimately be the start to his professional path. His partner encouraged him to make his hobby a profession and introduced him to the Israeli marathon record-holder trainer, who participated in the world championship. Now, Avi and Asaf’s goal is to represent Israel in the Paralympics games in Rio. Together, as a strap connects them, with a shared goal and lots of love, they’re running all the way to the top.
A decision in a moment
Avi Solomon was born with undamaged sight, however, after being diagnosed as a child with glaucoma, a disease that causes pressure in one’s eyes, he became completely blind at the age of 16. Sports have been accompanying him since he was young and became a coping mechanism for him.
“I started to become involved in sports at a young age, in the village in Ethiopia and in my neighborhood, but never professionally”, he explained. A significant turning point in his life was at the School for the Blind when he was playing Goaball – a similar game to soccer (football) in which the ball is attached to a bell and the objective is to push it into the goal. He played for the top teams in Israel and played many games in Europe. “I was in the top team for 11 years. I gave my place up in order to make time for a young teenager who experienced the same deterioration in his sight as myself. His story touched my heart and I decided to quit”, he shared. After quitting, Solomon joined a track team, started training and from there he grew.
Follow Avi and Asaf’s exceptional journey to Rio on the project’s official Facebook Page: Running with Avi to Rio 2016
Eight months ago, during one of the “Kesher Ein” team’s trainings, a team that integrates blind and seeing runners together, Solomon’s guide left the team. The team’s coach assigned Asaf to Avi and thus the two met for the first time, which led to their common goal. “I wanted to do something different with track”, Asaf stated when asked why he joined the team, “I ran with Avi in a personal training as we planned for the world championships. When He returned full of experiences after fulfilling a great dream, he also came back a little depressed. He explained that his coach left again due to personal reasons and he wasn’t getting any support. Avi had to make a decision and his future seemed unclear. At that moment he decided we would run together”.
Experiences, challenges and good people
The decision that started from running side-by-side, evolved into a shared goal. “In the beginning I thought that I would just run. The runners accompaniers are like a pair of running shoes, they’re used as eyes”, Asaf said. “As time went by, I got to know Avi as a person and a strong connection between us began to form which pushed us even more. We are currently training for Rio. We are looking at this journey as an adventure, coming into it with a smile and are meeting amazing people along the way that are helping us make our dream come true”.
Their objective is a 1,500 meter track in the Rio games and the criterion is under 4:25 minutes. The criterion requires them to stay focused, persistent and work hard. Nonetheless, this is not the only challenge in Avi’s life: In addition to his trainings, Solomon works in three different jobs and is a father to five children. In addition, due to injuries he stopped training for a long time.
“Running gives me new physical strengths. I feel like a role model to others and myself and understand that the sky is the limit and there’s nothing I can’t do”, he explained. “I am a stubborn person, when I decide to do something I do it all the way. I experienced many injuries along the way and I didn’t always have the best treatments, but I decided that it’s something I really want to do so I continued doing so. It’s been a difficult journey. There’s always room for improvement in sports, in track competitions it’s a matter of four minutes. You don’t get another chance. We are looking at Rio as a challenge, we will get through it and we’ll do whatever we can in order to win”.
Two worlds, one dream
The special connection that has formed between the two exists outside of the track field, too. “I go with Avi to lectures and I know his family. I experience the difficulties with him, as well as the success. In a sense, I know how it feels to live Avi’s life”, Asaf shared as he unraveled their open and warm relationship, who up until recently were strangers in two completely different worlds.
Sometimes, it seems as if their relationship is a result of a dream, however after meeting them it’s clear that it’s a result of humanity and the morals they both grew up with. “I bring a lot of the morals I received in the IAF into this journey, such as excellence and ambition, which is something I grew up with and was strengthened during my service. There is also the factor of doing things in a team, which is something that connects to my military service”, Asaf said.
“I think that everyone can learn from us. I emigrated from Ethiopia with a visual impairment and Asaf is from Israel, and a solider of the IAF. He took a lot on himself and gave his all without thinking twice”, Avi concludes. “We’re equal. I think we are the best example against discrimination and racism because we bridge the gap”.