Pia Levine, one of several March 23 2011 suicide bombing victims near Jerusalem’s International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’uma) rebounded from the horror with classy style. A Yeshiva University Sy Syms School of Business sophomore, she ran in last Thursday’s Jerusalem Marathon. She is consistent. Less than two days after the 2011 attempt to end her life, she completed the Jerusalem Marathon in 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Teaming up with the Team One Family in tribute to the One Family Fund, Pia is grateful that Team One helped her to recover from the trauma of the attack with assistance and support in Israel and in New Jersey. Her tenacity and optimism are irrepresible. Her courage and tenacity are motivating terror survivors around the world to achieve their potential. I spoke with this world-class athlete about her inspiring story on the eve of this years marathon.
YG: What have been the most important aspects of your ability to cope with the 2011 bombing and it’s after effects in your life? How did Team One initially approach you to help your recovery along? PL: Chantal Belzberg, the executive chairperson for One Family Fund, was the first person to approach me. She picked me up the day after the attack. She knew because my brother who lives in Israel and goes to Bar Ilan contacted One Family. She picked me up, took me to the hospital to be treated for shock, took me to a pharmacy, and back to the hotel I was staying at with my team. Days after I landed in America, I was put in touch with Michelle Napell, who got me involved in running with Team One.
Since the moment I left Israel last March I started planning my return. The ability to get back on the Tel Aviv 12 hour-flight, step onto Israeli soil and hopefully get on a bus and run this year’s marathon has really been a personal aspiration. When I landed in America, I did the farthest thing from coping. I used to ignore it, pretending it didn’t happen until I realized I couldn’t live like that. I would flinch from loud noises and hide at the sounds of storms. The sound of little pebbles hitting my windshield sounded like the pieces of shrapnel hitting the bus and the glass shattering. It was an overall bad sign. Michelle Napell at One Family Fund became my rock. She taught me how to cope. She revealed to me that talking about it would really make me feel better-and it did. She also suggested I sign up for the NYC triathlon last august, because the exercise in the direction of accomplishing something so major was bound to help. She was right.
YG: How long have you been a marathoner? How do you train?
PL: My first marathon was the Jerusalem Marathon last march. I never thought of myself as much of a runner even though I loved the idea of it. I followed it by participating the TD 5-boro bike tour in May (which I had done part of the previous year) and then the Nautica NYC triathlon in August.
I’ve never really been much into the training. For last year’s marathon I trained for a week in February until I was distracted by other things. The bike tour training meant that I spent a few weeks at the gym practicing until I could bike 42 miles. Then I did a ride or two in Long Island, enjoying my fellow teammates and the scenery. The triathlon required a lot more training than I actually gave it. I figured that the bike tour was all the training I needed for the biking part of the triathlon, the marathon was double the run for the triathlon, so I figured training was optional. I spent like once a week at the gym practicing the transition between the bike and running, ate a lot of bananas. By race day I was able to finish. That’s really what counts.
This year I actually spent the last month bi-weekly running in the gym in the basement of my dorm. I know from experience that the treadmill is nothing compared to the hills of Jerusalem but I am excited about the challenge.
YG: What are you studying at Sy Syms School?
PL: I am studying accounting. I became a licensed real estate salesperson a couple years back. I was fascinated with the opportunities in the field and I can see my self working the accounting aspect of some real estate business.
YG: What are your favorite activities in Israel?
PL: I love hiking and exploring in Israel. This past year I actually worked on an archaeological dig for three month in Israel. I LOVED the experience, a hands-on history lesson which made me appreciate the country more than I already did.
YG: Do you plan to make aliya? If yes, when?
PL: God willing I hope to one day to make aliya. I love Israel, my home. My brother, cousins, and a lot of close friends already live there. I know that when I choose to transition, I will be greeted with open arms.
YG: What do you absolutely, totally LOVE in life? Why?
PL: I love life in general. I appreciate every aspect of it. I love that I can get up every morning and decide what I want to do. I am not limited in any areas of life and I do not plan on even being prevented from doing something I want to do. Going to Israel for this marathon, even a day after surgery, will God-willing happen.
YG: Reporters are notorious for not asking the questions a person most wants to address. Please share details for the wider world to know.
PL: It means a lot to me to be able to spread awareness, letting people know that an act of terror can happen to anyone and it needs to be stopped. However, there is one thing that I guess separates me from other victims. When most people are in an attack they are either injured, a family member in injured, or they lost a loved one. The event becomes a sad and traumatic experience. I, however, was not injured nor did I lose a loved one. I came out perfectly unscathed. The event is sad because people did die and did get injured, and of course it was traumatic because it could have taken my life, but it didn’t. When I reflect on the event I realize there must be a reason I didn’t get off the bus like I normally did, putting me in the brunt of the explosion. There must be a reason that sitting directly across from the shattering glass, not getting even a scratch. There must be a reason that someone was killed and it wasn’t me. I’ve focused most of my brain power on these ‘what ifs,’ trying to figure out why it wasn’t me, but in truth I will never know. So I want to try and make a difference: Spread awareness, tell my story, and let the terrorists know that they can’t stop me from living life. My story isn’t the typical sad one of a terror victim. It’s a story of strength and inspiration, empowerment to keep on returning to our land and to not be afraid.
On a different note, my 2012 trip was delayed due to a small surgery. Surgery came at the worst possible time and while it might put me at a setback from running, as of now I am planning on at least walking. I arrived in fine shape and I made a seudat hoda’ah at the One Family Fund Center in Jerusalem on the anniversary of the attack. One Family Fund took photos of it.
On Friday March 17, Pia competed, with more than 15,000 runners from over 50 countries, on a 10-, 21- and 42-kilometer race in Jerusalem. The rain-soaked and hail-pocked course began near the Israel Museum. The long-distance race ended at Sacher Park. Pia ran the 21-kilometer race which concluded at Sderot Ben-Tzvi near the Betzalel junction. She says, “2:59.40 was my time, 40 minutes more than last year, which I think is pretty good considering it was a week after surgery!”
Next up on her schedule: “The Philadelphia triathlon, also for One Family.”
To support One Family Fund’s efforts to help victims of terror, contact:
Yehuda Poch, Director of Communications
One Family Fund – Helping Israel’s Victims of Terror
28 Rachel Imenu, POB 8573, Jerusalem, Israel 93228
Phone: (972) 2-539-9000, Fax: (972) 2-539-9011
Direct Line: (972)2-539-9006, Cell: (972) 54-499-7624
About the Author: Yocheved Golani is the author of highly acclaimed "It's MY Crisis! And I'll Cry If I Need To: EMPOWER Yourself to Cope with a Medical Challenge" (http://booklocker.com/books/3067.html). It addresses and solves many needs of disabled, ill and recovering readers.
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