“It is actually great. Everything here has changed. But it is a lot of good things."
Israel’s Moran Samuel welcomed the Paralympic year with the birth of her first child. And she might celebrate her first Paralympic medal with him at the Rio 2016 Games.
Samuel said the first month of being a mother was challenging, but she has been able to stick to her normal training routine. Sometimes her son, Arad, and partner join her at the rowing centre in Tel Aviv. They will certainly join her at the Games in September.
“He [my son] is really kind. He wakes up at the same time as me,” Samuel described. “In Israel we train in a small stream. It is about 3km long and there is a nice walking path that they can take. So they join me for quite some times. It is really nice. We are doing it together.”
Since finishing fifth at London 2012, Samuel has risen to the top of the women’s arms and shoulders single sculls (AWSM1x) event. She appeared to find her stroke in 2015 during the World Cup season and capped it off with her first world title last September in Aiguebelette, France.
This September, the challenges are different.
“I have been working for Rio the last three-and-a-half years, and my partner has been working on having a baby for three-and-a-half years,” Samuel said. “Once she got pregnant, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but we are both very committed to both journeys.
“It is actually great. Everything here has changed. But it is a lot of good things. The first month was harder. But he sleeps better. I kept on my training schedule but it seems like we are doing it. They are going to come with me to all the training camps and of course to Rio.”
Training in her home country is not simple.
In Israel, where water sports are not well-known, there are only three rowing centres, Samuel said. She trains in the biggest one – the Daniel Rowing Centre. The stream they train on is about 3km long and not big enough to push lanes, but the resources, support and high-performance spirit is strong, according to Samuel. It is also fully accessible and has a dedicated programme for people with impairments.
“[Rowing] is not as popular as other individual sports in Israel, but we are trying to change that,” said Samuel, who was named the 2015 World Rowing Para Athlete of the Year. “We try to reach out to more people and bring younger people in. I try to help by inspiring more people to come and row, with and without a disability.
“I had never rowed before I was in a wheelchair, but for me it was really exciting and I learned a lot about the sport and about myself.”
Basketball was Samuel’s first love and one she thought she would continue at a high level. But in 2006 she woke up one morning paralysed from the chest down, which later she learned was from a rare condition called spinal stroke.
Samuel said it took her about three years from when she got injured to returning to sport. Naturally, she gravitated to wheelchair basketball. But in 2010 she tried rowing and enjoyed the new elements of being outdoors, on the water and in her own boat.
“There was something there that took me back to when I could run, and it was amazing,” Samuel said.
The 34-year-old will be the one to chase on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Competition is expected to be tight however. At the World Cup in Poznan, Poland, in June, Samuel finished third behind Great Britain’s winner Rachel Morris and Norway’s Birgit Skarstein, who finished about a second apart.
But Samuel will focus on her own boat.
“First of all, I hope to have fun,” she said. “Being an athlete, you work hard every day, sometimes you forget to have fun.
“And also it is important for me to cross the finish line in Rio and ask myself ‘Did you do your best?’ … If that answer is yes, it does not matter if I get gold, silver or bronze. But I am aiming for gold, of course.”
Editor’s note: Each sport on the Rio 2016 Paralympic programme will have a dedicated week of featured content published on paralympic.org. Every week a new sport will be featured and the series will run until September’s Games, helping the public understand more about the 22 sports being contested in Rio.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
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