Meet 'the runner with soul'
Gai Ben Dor's 180° organization helps people with disabilities thrive through sports.
Sometimes failure can lead to the most resounding victories. Take Gai Ben Dor, for example. The 32-year-old was an avid runner growing up, but he retired his competitive juices as he came to terms with his own physical limitations. An eagerness to remain active in the sport, however, motivated him to answer an ad he found online, "Wanted: A Runner with Soul."
The ad had been placed by a blind man named Beza, who was hoping to run but needed assistance to do so. Ben Dor, along with his father, Offer, also a runner, jumped at the opportunity.
"It was actually the first time in my life I had met a blind person, so the whole experience was something absolutely new for me, for my father, for Beza, because he had never run before," Ben Dor told From The Grapevine, recalling that first meeting 10 years ago.
Fast forward two years and, after several marathons, Beza qualified for the 2008 Paralympics in China.
"When we started running with Beza, he was a heavy smoker and he hadn't run even a few meters in his life, so it was something you don't even think you will be able to do," Ben Dor explained of the experience. "The fact that we did it and helped show people that those with disabilities can make achievements and lead fulfilling lives was a very empowering feeling."
The experience inspired Ben Dor and his father to launch a series of running and walking groups for people with disabilities and volunteers who guide them.
"It's for people with disabilities who want to use sports as an opportunity to try to integrate into society – people with cerebral palsy, mental or physical abilities – you name it, " Ben Dor said. "I also wanted to allow them to meet other people in an environment that is natural to make them feel like they are part of a larger group of people that symbolizes society in general."
There have been many success stories to come out of the endeavor, but one sticks with Ben Dor especially.
"One guy, he was born with cerebral palsy and when he showed up he was in an electrical wheelchair and had been for some time," Ben Dor recalled. "Recently he finished a 5K race – something even his doctors never thought he would be able to do."
Ben Dor has now launched the organization 180°, with his wife, Adi, whom he met while she was volunteering with one of the groups, and his father, uniting the various groups under one organizational banner. The goal is to broaden the reach of the program beyond Israel, to the United States and other countries, and to increase the opportunities of those involved with the program.
For example, following Beza's turn at the Paralympics, Ben Dor and his father accompanied the young runner on a trip to Mount Everest. Ben Dor hopes to provide similar trips to those involved with 180°.
Ben Dor has become a spokesman for working with the disabled, and in 2013 was invited to give a TEDx Talk. His hope is that as 180° grows, more opportunities to spread the message will arise. But in the end it's not about him, but about using his life for a sport to help those who need it most.
"I love sports, I love running. And to be able to use this thing you love so much to impact another person – it really got me from the beginning," he told us.
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