Competing in wheelchair tennis at the Rio 2016 Paralympics, BIU alumnus Itai Erenlib and teammate Shraga Weinberg just barely missed out on a bronze medal in the men’s Quad Doubles after falling in a third-set tie-breaker with the British team.
But the near win itself is a cause for celebration as it attests to Erenlib’s tenacious efforts to overcome a life-changing injury incurred while serving as an IDF officer in the Paratroopers’ Special Forces.
Erenlib was critically wounded in July 2007 during an operational mission in Nablus when his task force was ambushed with a large explosive device. Nearly losing his life, he was seriously injured in one arm and both legs were amputated. “After the injury I had to re-learn how to walk, to breathe, to shower, to be myself. A new battle had begun!” After a year of rehabilitation, he returned to serve in the IDF for five more years while engaging in sports whenever possible.
“Before the injury I played basketball and ran,” relays the Israeli combat vet. “After the injury I began to swim, and then returned to basketball and running, but about four years ago when I first started playing tennis, I realized that it’s the sport that I like most.”
After military service, he enrolled at BIU. Erenlib says his injury ignited his desire to pursue a career and figure prominently in Israeli medicine or security. Recently completing a BSc in Life Sciences with honors, he aims to continue his academic training in one of those fields. Reflecting on the challenges of combining academia with grueling sports training, he mentions supportive faculty, including Prof. Shulamit Michaeli, Dean of the Mina & Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, and his classmates who helped him keep pace. His graduation ceremony was an exciting moment for him and his close ones who saw him through the difficult times. “I was especially glad to see my mother happy.”
At BIU, Erenlib says he was exposed to rich Jewish content. “As part of Basic Jewish Studies, I took a class on the philosophy of Maimonides, who maintains that one must have balance in life, and that’s a lesson that I apply to my own life.”
Erenlib doesn’t consider his athletics or academics as a special rehabilitation mission; rather the real rehabilitation, he says, is making a conscious decision to get up every morning and get on with life. “From the moment that I decided to be involved in sports and to aspire to compete in the Olympics I began to train intensively and sometimes had to put my studies and work on hold.
“To win a tournament is an amazing experience, but on the way there were many painful losses. A coach once told me: ‘success is to go from failure to failure without losing the enthusiasm.’” However, Itai Erenlib has an additional motivation, “representing Israel in the Olympics is extremely important and that justifies all of the concessions made along the way.”