Shabbat conflict ends Israeli Paralympic bid early

One-legged skier Sheina Vaspi, an orthodox Jew, finished 15th in her first and only event as the second race was moved to Saturday.

By Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel 21c

Sheina Vaspi, 20, the first athlete ever to represent Israel in the Paralympic Winter Games, finished the giant slalom in 15th place out of 22 skiers on March 11 in Beijing.

That was her only opportunity to represent her country because the other event for which she’d qualified was moved to Saturday from Sunday due to weather considerations, and Vaspi does not compete on Shabbat.

Raised in a Lubavitch Hasidic family in northern Israel, she was seriously injured in a car accident and her left leg was amputated at age three.

About four years ago, Vaspi began skiing through the Erez Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1999 by veterans of the Israel Defense Forces’ Alpine Unit to help disabled soldiers and children with special needs push the limits and get out on the slopes using adaptive equipment.

The exuberant redhead wears a skirt over her ski pants in keeping with modest religious dress codes. The Israeli Paralympic Committee fought hard for her right to do so at the event.

Read  Here are the Israelis competing in the 2024 Olympics

“If more women or religious people want to do sports and be religious, I want to show it’s possible to do that,” Vaspi said.

Eli Birnbaum, chairman of the Israel Paralympic Committee, praised Vaspi’s talent, determination and courage. “You have become a role model and inspiration for many,” he said.

Her coach, Scott Olson, previously told ISRAEL21c that “Sheina is a female in a sport that doesn’t get a lot of females. She’s got a drive that really isn’t matched by a lot of people, male or female. Every time she fails, she comes back better and stronger.”

In a video she posted on Facebook after the event, Vaspi said she looks forward, “with the help of God, to competing again for Israel in 2026.”