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Know No Bounds

IDF Veteran Adi Deutsch lost his leg to a land mine when he was 20 years old. Nearly three decades later, and now a seasoned triathlete, he’ll run the New York City Marathon on Sunday.

Tess Cutler
October 31, 2015

On the balcony of The Hotel at Times Square, Adi Deutsch, an IDF veteran, thought back to a day in 1979 when he stepped on an antipersonnel land mine while returning from a mission in Lebanon. “It blew up,” he said matter-of-factly and without a flinch in his thick Israeli accent. After the explosion, which ultimately took his right leg, Deutsch was airlifted to a hospital where he’d soon begin his recuperation. He was just 20 years old.

But this is not something Deutsch, now 56, dwells on. Instead he looks forward; on Thursday, as he looked out onto the Manhattan skyline, he was thinking about the New York City Marathon, which he’ll run on Sunday for the first time. And when he does, the butterflies inside him will begin to flutter at the start line, where he’ll feel drunk with adrenaline. It’s what makes him race time and time again.

Ever since 2000, Deutsch has been cycling competitively. He has participated at the Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, in a triathlon in Roth, Germany, and an Ironman in Frankfurt. At home in Israel, he has placed third in his division at the 2012 European Triathlon Championships, fourth in his division at the Israman, and took place first place at the Tiberias Marathon, his only marathon prior to Sunday’s 26.2-mile race through New York City’s five boroughs.

Deutsch has all the qualities of a champion—incredible stamina and strength, an inspiring narrative of overcoming physical odds, and even some slogans, such as “I do it because it’s there,” a million dollar mantra among many that come second nature to him. But he wasn’t always a dedicated runner. In fact, at one point, Deutsch considered running to be his weakest athletic skill, opting instead to focus on cycling (when he uses a day-to-day prosthetic) and swimming (when he doesn’t use a prosthetic at all). For the past 25 years, Deutsch has regularly competed in cycling and volleyball competitions, too.

That all changed in 2012, when Deutsch was among 12 participants who received athletic prosthetics thanks to Friends of the IDF (FIDF) Strides Program, an initiative that provides special sports prosthetics for wounded IDF veterans, in conjunction with A Step Ahead prosthetics.

“Even though I’m old,” said Deutsch, “[these organizations] gave me a new life.”

Deutsch hadn’t run in over 30 years when he received his running prosthetic, which cost about $25,000 to manufacture (it was paid for by the Strides Program). And he still remembers that first run. “I was very happy,” he said, “very happy.”

With a shaved head, a mustache the color of straw, and light gray eyes, Deutsch looks the part. Back home in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, the father of three is the managing director of a network of community centers. Three times a year he’s off competing in a challenge, like an Ironman (in 2013, he was the first Israeli amputee to complete the rigorous contest). “I want to compete with able-bodied athletes,” he said.

Deutsch has three different prosthetics designated for walking, running and cycling, which he wears and swaps during triathlons. For this marathon, he’ll be wearing his running prosthetic, trekking 26.2 miles alongside thousands of other competitors.

As a constant reminder, the athlete has “Live Life Without Limitations” tattooed across his upper right arm.

Over the last three months, Deutsch has subscribed to an intense regimen with a personal trainer, running 30 to 40 miles per week and eating a balanced high-protein diet (with a whole lot of Israeli salad) to prep for the New York City Marathon. Number 27056, Deutsch will depart at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday.

“If you have the good stuff, the good prosthetic, the good gear,” he said “then you can fly.”

Tess Cutler is an intern at Tablet.

Tess Cutler is an intern at Tablet.