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The Soccer Player Who Almost Didn’t Walk

Yuval (center) with coach Ami and Shai holding trophies and a medal won by the soccer team.

Yuval (center) with coach Ami and Shai holding trophies and a medal won by the soccer team.

Yuval Tzadok’s black eyes shine with a joie de vivre that was almost puffed out when an army maneuver in his elite battalion went wrong and put him in a wheelchair. Today, he’s the goalkeeper on OneFamily’s soccer team. Admits coach Ami Ben David, “I expect them to give me everything.”

Failed Maneuver

In 2006, twenty-one-year-old Yuval Tzadok was stationed at the Ofer military camp on the outskirts of Ramallah in the central West Bank, ten kilometers north of Jerusalem. He was a solider in the elite Duchifat counter-terrorism battalion, which is part of the Kfir Brigade (Lion Cub Brigade) of the IDF Central Command infantry division. The Duchifat battalion specializes in urban combat and its soldiers bear the responsibility of protecting the Jewish communities in the area. Maneuvers include counter-terror operations, apprehension of Palestinian terrorists, patrols, manning checkpoints and regular security activities.

“We left in five jeeps before dawn to take part in a maneuver. Visibility was low and judging distances and obstacles was tricky despite our infra-red equipment. After successfully completing the maneuver, we started heading back to our camp,” Yuval begins, his slim hand smoothing his black beard. “I was in the first jeep of the convoy. Suddenly, the road disappeared…it happens in these areas,” he explains with a tight smile. “We plunged down a tw- meter fall. The enormous jolt crushed a disc in my spinal cord.”

Yuval was immediately evacuated to Hadassah Ein Kerem. There in the Orthopedic Trauma Unit, Professor Yoel Finkelstein removed the chips of the crushed disc in an eleven-hour operation. “I was told there was very little chance that I’d ever walk again,” he says. For Yuval, who was extremely athletic and involved in gymnastics, the terrible prognosis hit particularly hard. “But within a week, I slowly began to feel my legs once again,” he says with another smile. Immediately after his injury, OneFamily reached out to Yuval. OneFamily empowers victims of terror to rebuild their lives by offering financial support and therapeutic assistance programs for orphans of both parents, orphans of one parent, bereaved parents, widows and widowers, bereaved siblings, and wounded victims. OneFamily also provides support for soldiers injured in action.

Learning to Walk Again

Yuval spent the next six months at Hadassah Har Hatzofim Rehabilitation Center learning how to walk again. “My battalion commander sent fellow soldiers to me every single day. Their job was to tell me to get up and walk even though I insisted I couldn’t,” Yuval recalls. The support of his peers, together with intensive physiotherapy sessions and an amazingly sunny nature that shined throughout the interview, pushed Yuval out of his wheelchair. Thanks to a second operation, which involved replacing the crushed disc with a pin and a bone from a different joint in his body, Yuval graduated to walking with a walker and a year later moved on to crutches. “I am considered 89% disabled; back pain is my constant companion; I can’t run as well as I used to and the summersaults of my athletics are only a memory,” Yuval says. “Although I limp slightly, today I can actually walk – something considered a miracle by the medical team that treated me.”

While still in hospital, Yuval learned that he was to receive the prestigious Presidential Award, given annually on Independence Day to 120 outstanding soldiers and officers. “When I got the call and the clerk realized I was in a wheelchair, he told me not to worry: I wouldn’t need to stand through the ceremony – I could sit!” Whenformer president Moshe Katsav awarded the medals, Yuval noticed that another injured female soldier also remained seated.

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