Other Sports

He was injured in the Yom Kippur War. 45 years later, he’s racing in his 10th marathon

More than 20,000 people will take part in the 2018 Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday.
More than 20,000 people will take part in the 2018 Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday. cjuste@miamiherald.com

Just because Miki Erez can’t walk doesn’t mean he can’t compete. He already knows how much he can accomplish.

That’s why Erez will line up Sunday with more than 20,000 people outside AmericanAirlines Arena with one goal in mind: Finish the race.

Erez, a 66-year-old Palmetto Bay resident from Israel, will be one of more than 70 disabled athletes competing in the 2018 Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon as part of the Florida branch of Achilles International, a nonprofit organization that “provides athletes with disabilities with a community of support” and lets “able-bodied volunteers and disabled runners come together to train in an environment of support and community.”

This weekend will also be a milestone of sorts for Erez. When he finishes the Miami Marathon on Sunday, it will be his 10th that he has finished even though he hasn’t been able to walk in almost 45 years.

“The atmosphere is great,” Erez said. “It gives me a lot of great motivation. I see that there are more people participating. Not only able people but more disabled people compete in the race every year. It’s good for the community to get together in such a big and nice event that’s recognized.”

Erez sustained a spinal cord injury during a helicopter crash in the 1973 Yom Kippur War while serving as a member of the Israeli Air Force. At the time of the injury, the left side of his body was completely paralyzed. He underwent three spinal surgeries within 18 months. Through rehab and physical therapy afterward, he regained function in his left arm but was still confined to a wheelchair.

Erez doesn’t focus on the injury or what happened on that day. It doesn’t define him, he says.

What he has accomplished afterward certainly does, though.

In order to complete the 26.2-mile race, Erez uses a handcycle, which is essentially a bicycle powered by a person’s arms instead of his or her legs.

Last year, he finished the Miami Marathon in just less than 3 hours and 15 minutes.

“You just do it different,” Erez said. “Some people run or walk. I have to use a handcycle.”

His first marathon experience came about eight years ago in Palm Beach County, and it’s a moment he will always remember.

The night before the race, he was in Key West as a guest in a family friend’s wedding. At about 9 p.m., he left the celebration, drove home to change clothes and then packed his Jeep to make his way to the marathon.

He finished the race with ease.

“I was very happy that I finished because the whole idea is competing against myself,” Erez said. “I wanted to start and finish. It was a great feeling to know that I decided I was going to do it and that I finished.”

Erez strives to make the most of every day of his life. He moved to the United States full-time in 1980 after a pair of visits a few years earlier. He lives with his wife Lissette, whom he has been happily married to for 32 years. He has five children and one grandchild.

And he finds time to stay physically active. He started with swimming following the injury before picking up wheelchair basketball.

The elite field of the 2017 Miami Marathon and Half Marathon takes off on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017.

The 66-year-old works out daily at his local gym and trains at home using equipment he created for wheelchair-bound athletes through his company Wheelchair Fitness Solution.

“The machine helps people who have recently become disabled to live with a new physical reality,” Erez said. “No one is born knowing how to be disabled.”

Erez isn’t alone in his endeavors, though. Erez thanks his wife for her support through the years, calling her “the power behind my activity.”

”She gave me the energy to do all the things I want to do,” he said.

On Sunday, Erez will be able to once again show what he is able to do.

With more than 20,000 others competing alongside him, Erez will make his way from AmericanAirlines Arena and proceed through Miami Beach, Coconut Grove and downtown Miami. When he reaches the finish line on Biscayne Boulevard near Bayfront Park, another milestone — another accomplishment — will be achieved.

As the race gets closer, Erez said there are no jitters, no nerves. He’s done it before.

“Just rest, go to sleep and be on time at the starting line,” he said.

Related stories from Miami Herald