Sheina Vaspi, 20, will be Israel’s first and only competitor at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing, taking place from March 4 to 13. While the country has sent a team to the Summer Paralympics, this is the first time the country has had representation at the Winter Paralympics.
When Sheina was three, she was injured in a car accident and her left leg was amputated. But, with a drive to push past her perceived physical limitations, she learned how to ski through the Erez Foundation three years ago. Erez is a nonprofit organization established by the Israel Defense Forces’ Alpine Unit veterans to help disabled soldiers and children with special needs.
Within a year at the Erez Foundaton, Sheina proved to be a great on the skis, and she went to the United States for intensive coaching at the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Colorado. Her coach, Scott Olson says, “She’s got a drive that really isn’t matched by a lot of people. Every time she fails, she comes back better and stronger. She is a joy to be around—she brings light into the room.”
Sheina is Lubavitch, so she wears a skirt over her ski pants to abide by the modest religious dress code and doesn’t ski on Shabbat.
Additionally, Sheina was the first Israeli to compete in the Para World Alpine Skiing Championships in Lillehammer, Norway. She competes in the slalom (zigzag course) at speeds up to 55 mph on one leg. While Sheina did not win any races in Lillehammer, she has only been training for two years so is still “hitting the marks we want,” according to Olsen. He also says, “To be able to perform here with world-class athletes is absolutely amazing in the timeframe we’ve done it.”
Eli Birnbaum, chairman of the Israel Paralympic Committee, said in reference to Sheina, “We are so proud that a sunny country like ours has managed to put up a representative in this winter sport.”
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