Israeli disabled soldiers tackle Snowmass slopes
The Aspen Times
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” When Roni Goazlan falls on the ski slope in his sit-ski, he roars.
He’s not frustrated; he loves being on skis and falling is just part of the fun.
Goazlan, 35, is one of 10 wounded Israeli veterans who were at Snowmass this week for a sports clinic sponsored by the Jewish Community Center Chabad of Aspen and Challenge Aspen.
“I’ve never seen people laugh so much after a somersault,” said Shalom Illouz, a long-time Aspenite and member of the Jewish Community Center who volunteered during the week-long clinic, which ran from March 27 to April 3.
Though the Israeli veterans’ visit coincided with the 22nd annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, the programs were unaffiliated, Illouz said.
But Israeli and U.S. military veterans did have a chance to share experiences, and Goazlan said he could relate to U.S. veterans’ stories of terror attacks and suicide bombers.
A medic with the border patrol in Israel, Goazlan was on vacation near his family home in Jerusalem in June of 2002 when he spied a suspicious man outside a crowded bus terminal.
The man was talking on a cell phone connected by a wire to something under a jacket, Goazlan said, and the trained soldier became suspicious and followed the man toward a crowd of more than 100 people.
“I knew he was a suicide bomber,” Goazlan said, but the trained soldier did not have time to reach in his backpack for his handgun.
Instead, Goazlan tackled the bomber and pushed the man against a wall just before the bomb exploded.
Goazlan opened his eyes moments later to a moment of perfect silence before he heard the screams of wounded people and the approaching sirens.
He saw that his legs were badly broken and bleeding and reached in his medic bag for gauze to staunch the wounds, then turned to help a woman nearby.
Despite his efforts, the woman died, he said.
Goazlan spent ten days in intensive care and endured 22 operations over one year and 8 months in and out of hospitals before his legs were amputated.
“You must go on; you can’t go back to the past,” Goazlan said, adding that he’s never felt sorry for himself over his injuries.
In fact, he’s got a new lease on life.
“Before I was attacked, I didn’t do any sports,” Goazlan said.
Today, he’s the captain of his hometown wheelchair basketball team, he rides horses, and thanks to the folks at Challenge Aspen, he skis.
And Goazlan took to it right from the start.
“He was aggressive, he listened, and he kept on trying hard,” said Kim Hale, Goazlan’s instructor.
After just a few days, Goazlan was still tethered to Hale, but was skiing mostly on his own.
Goazlan will likely return to Aspen in summer to be fitted for his own sit-ski, and he hopes to come to more camps.
He might be able to continue at ski areas in the north of Israel, but added, “We have skiing, but not like this.”
Rabbi Mendel Mintz of the Jewish Community Center congratulated the many Aspenites who came out in force to support the event, and said the Israeli soldiers really benefited from the trip.
“We figured there’s so much in common with what our troops go through and what Israeli veterans go through,” Mintz said. “It was amazing how there was such a bond.”
Mintz’s organization sponsored the travel, food and accommodation for the Israeli soldiers, with help from in-kind donations from various organizations, and the generous support of Houston Cowan of Challenge Aspen.
During this week’s visit, one of the Israeli veterans was so inspired by the Snowmass scenery, he proposed to his girlfriend on the mountain, Mintz said.
Mintz will meet with Challenge Aspen officials in coming weeks to talk about future Israeli veteran visits, he said.
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