The song Dayeinu, from the Pesach Haggadah, comes to mind when I think of Dorit Attias and her accomplishments. If I just said she had won multiple awards as an international race walker – wow, Dayeinu. Or if I just mentioned she was an Iraqi war veteran – Dayeinu. A Staff Sergeant in the US Army Reserves – Dayeinu. Former member of the Lakewood Auxiliary Police – Dayeinu. Volunteer firefighter for the Lakewood, New Jersey Fire Department – cool (Dayienu) and finally, the great honor of being chosen to represent the US Table Tennis team for the Maccabiah Games in Israel this year – Dayeinu! Yet Dorit is all of this and more.
Dorit grew up in sunny Eilat. She was involved in sports since she was a young child. As a teenager she was the table tennis champion of Eilat, winning 2nd place in the southern regional competition and going on to win 3rd place in the national mixed double championship. At the same time, she was running marathons.
“My lifetime dream was to train for the Olympics. I went as far as I could go in Eilat and then it was time to move on,” Dorit says.
Dorit’s mom was an American and she had an American passport. So in the mid 80′s, Dorit moved to Lakewood, NJ. She made the US Olympic trials for track and field and came out in 11th place. Unfortunately, only the top three finalists are chosen to go on to the Olympics. To continue aiming for her dream, Dorit realized, she would have to quit her job and train full time. She had no sponsors and needed to put bread on the table – so she realized her Olympic dream would have to fall to the wayside. Undaunted (although a bit disappointed), she turned to race walking, and in 1988 she won first place in the highly acclaimed New York City marathon, race walking division.
“I love race walking. I love the sport,” Dorit tells me. “I participate in anywhere from 5 to 30 races a year. I basically do it until I get sick of it and need a break. Then I decide I need to get back in shape (I don’t think Dorit’s ever been not in shape!) and get back into it. Sometimes I do it for the competition and sometimes just as a work out.”
Dorit is cavalier about her athletic accomplishments, yet she has placed in the top three in nearly all the races she has participated in (about 200!). For two years running, in 2004 and 2005, she placed first in the US National Championship over all females in all age groups. In 2006 and 2007 she won first place in a 24-hour race walk in Rouen, France. She represents the United States in Mexico, Malaysia and France in race walking and some of her other races include the 2006 Texas Ultra centric in which she walked 101.5 miles in 24 hours earning the distinction of first American woman centurion in 20 years (in English – first American woman to walk 100 miles in one day). She tells me she’d been trying for this coveted “centurion” title for a few years.
“The first time I tried, “ she confided, “was in a race in Colorado. It snowed for the full 24 hours but I only clocked in at 99 miles.”
Ever modest and looking to push herself further, Dorit says – “One of my goals now is to finish Paris- Colmar, a 200 mile walk over four days, starting from Paris and ending in the town of Colmar, France.”
This highly internationally publicized event is similar to the Tour de France, just on foot, not on bicycle. No American has ever finished it yet. Nine women were invited to participate – Dorit was one of them, the first American race walker to be invited. It is the longest and most difficult walking race in the world.
“I had a volunteer support crew of ten people, including 2 RV’s, who followed me every step of the way with food, change of clothing and first aid. I walked in 100 degree weather during the day which made for pretty wet clothing after a while and at night it was cold. Unfortunately, I was pulled out of the race after 37 hours. The blisters on my feet were getting scary looking.”
By the way,” she adds, “Colmar-Neuilly Sur Marine, France is the town that sent America the Statue of Liberty. They have their own mini statue of liberty standing in their town as well.”
I ask Dorit why she pushes herself so hard, what drives her to compete in these races?
“I enjoy it, it keeps me healthy and gives me time to think. I’m a big believer in women (and men) taking care of their bodies, doing everything they can to stay in shape. You gotta eat right and exercise,” she says.
She does admit that you don’t have to walk 24 hours straight under the hot sun and cold nights in Malaysia to keep in shape. But it certainly would make one’s exercise routine interesting!
When Dorit is not race walking, she is employed by the Lakewood Township Public Works and a part time associate at the local Home Depot. She is also an Iraqi war veteran and in the United States army reserves since 1997.
“I have been a volunteer all my life,” Dorit says. “Since age ten I have been active in some community organization. As a child myself, I taught table tennis to younger children in Eilat. I like to help others.”
For the last 18 years Dorit has been a volunteer firefighter for the Lakewood Fire Department. She was its president from 1999 to 2001 and was active in relief efforts during Hurricane Sandy. I ask Dorit if she notices a higher incidence of fires at particular times of the year. She says in the beginning of the winter, usually. The culprit is often malfunctioning heaters. Although, thank G-d, the fires are usually non-life threatening (as “non life threatening” as fires can be), there was a time she had to pull someone out of his house to escape.
Dorit’s latest achievement – and perhaps most exciting because it combines her passion for sports and her passion for giving – is her invitation to join the Maccabiah games in Israel this coming June. The Maccabiah games have been dubbed the “Jewish Olympics.” Over 7,700 Jewish athletes from sixty countries from around the world compete. It is considered the third biggest sports event in the world and takes place every four years. But Maccabiah’s true mission is building Jewish pride and identity with sports as the conduit. Their aim is to connect primarily young Jews with the Jewish world, enable them to rediscover their roots and gain a sense of belonging to the Jewish people. There have even been shidduchim, marriage matches, made over the years through Maccabiah.
There is no race walking competition in Maccabiah, however, so Dorit went back to her former sport of table tennis. Tryouts were held in North Jersey and it was a great honor when she was chosen to represent the US Maccabi Table Tennis team.
“What might, unfortunately, prevent me from competing, though,” Dorit confides to me, “is that in order to attend, each competitor is obligated to raise over $6,000 to sponsor another athlete – a Jewish child from an underprivileged background who could not afford to participate otherwise. It is a life-altering event when these young Jewish athletes get to participate in Maccabiah, competing alongside other Jewish children in healthy sports. Being part of an organization like this fosters Jewish pride and healthy self esteem. It is an honor for me to be part of their team. I remember as a child myself, many years ago, I participated in the half marathon (13 mile race) – it is an experience I will not forget.”
As we conclude our interview, I marvel at the many roles Dorit has taken upon herself. And with such ease. I think of the well known saying – the one about how you can’t imagine what it is like to be another person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. And I think to myself, in Dorit’s case, you’d have to walk at least 99 miles in her shoes just to get an inkling of all she does!
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