Tue, 05 Dec 2023

Tel Aviv [Israel], September 27 (ANI/TPS): In the world of long-distance running, every step is a testament to determination and perseverance. That's what makes retired Israeli Defence Forces Col Uri Levi's participation in the upcoming New York City marathon all the more bold.

In 2020, doctors were forced to remove a lobe of his lungs when he collapsed during the Tiberias marathon.

Three years later, Levi is getting ready to lead a team of 130 Israelis competing in the NYC marathon to raise money for Shalva, Israel's largest association benefiting and supporting thousands of individuals with disabilities and their families.

But his journey to becoming a marathon runner was not a smooth, straight path. It was a path filled with challenges, setbacks, and ultimately, redemption.

Uri's story begins in 2020 when he and his brothers Noam and Neria made a family pact to quit smoking and get into shape. After participating in several local marathons, Uri convinced his brothers to join him in his next goal of completing the 42 km Tiberias marathon. It took a bit of persuasion, buteventually, Uri got his brothers on board. The three spent the next months training intensively for their big day, with Uri serving as their coach.

But during a preliminary run only days before the marathon, Uri suffered severe shortness of breath. Uri, who'd recovered several months earlier from the coronavirus, chalked up his weakness to mild aftereffects.

"My weakness persisted, and I experienced occasional bouts of shortness of breath, but I wasn't about to back out of the marathon. My brothers and I had trained for months. We'd all quit smoking, and we were really proud of ourselves and committed to making it to the finish line," Uri recalled.

The long-awaited day of the marathon dawned. The weather was spectacular, perfect for running, and Uri eagerly laced up his running shoes.

The run started out fine for Uri but swiftly deteriorated.

He didn't feel well, and every yard felt like a mile, every mile like an eternity. This wasn't what Uri planned for his big family run, but military life taught him never to back down even when the going gets tough. So he continued on despite feeling like his lungs were exploding.

Slightly past the halfway mark, Uri collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with spontaneous pneumothorax, a condition in which gas builds up in the space between the lungs and the chest wall. Risk factors include smoking, and activities such as scuba diving, high altitudes and flying. Untreated, the condition can lead to dangerously low oxygen levels in the blood.

As a result, doctors removed an entire lobe of Uri's lungs in an emergency procedure.

Recovery took time, but Uri eventually returned to his work as a career IDF officer. Later on, he began working out and then running short distances.

"It bothered me that after all I'd invested, I'd never completed the marathon, and I was pretty sure that my marathon days were over," Uri said.

Fast forward to 2023. After 25 years of devoted service to the IDF, Uri Levi retired from the army determined to devote his talents to the nonprofit sector. He settled on Shalva, a Jerusalem-based organization that provides therapies, educational frameworks, social activities, employment training and more for thousands of people with disabilities and their families.

In 2022, 65 Israeli runners crossed the finish line of the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon as part of the first-ever Israeli team to participate in this marathon. The team ran in support of Shalva, setting a historical precedent that had been considered unattainable until that time.

"When I came to Shalva, I asked the staff what I could do to help. As a retired career officer who had fought in Gaza, Shomron [Samaria] and Lebanon, they asked me if I'd be willing to talk to the members of Team Shalva who will be running in this year's upcoming marathon and inspire them,"Levi said.

"Getting to know the group and their goals, I was the one who was ultimately inspired."Uri was impressed to learn that Team Shalva has doubled its group of runners in just one year. On November 5, a team of 130 Israelis from all walks of life will run in the 42 km (26 mile) race through New York City's five boroughs. Uri recruited his two brothers to collectively raise 100,000 shekels (USD26,000) to run with Team Shalva.

"Every day is a marathon for our Shalva families," says Itamar Shevach, Shalva's deputy director and CFO, who led the Shalva team and ran in last year's NYC marathon. "With dedication and determination, Shalva's kids and adults navigate enormous challenges day in and day out, and they're an inspiration to us all." (ANI/TPS)

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