I finally made it to the Maccabiah Games in Israel but it feels bitter sweet.
The Maccabiah Games are an international Jewish and Israeli multi-sport event held every four years in Israel since 1932. It is the third-largest sporting event in the world.
I played the team sport of netball in Australia for Maccabi Club from 1984-2010. That’s 26 years!
In that time I think I won every award possible at different stages of my sporting career. and was a very proud (and somewhat boastful) netballer.
My dream was always to play netball for Australia at The Maccabiah Games. In 1993 I tried out for the team as an eighteen year old and was injured (and terrified) during tryouts. This was for the 1997 Games. In July 1997, I tearfully watched the Australian team leave without me.
As the Australian team was making its way into Ramat Gan stadium for the opening ceremony, tragedy struck as the “makeshift bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed” and four of our Australian squad died and more than than 70 others were injured.
The bridge disaster in 1997 effected me deeply and I’m not sure I ever recovered, staring at the news for weeks, all day from 6am, trying to find my friends and see who was ok and who was not. Something I never speak about.
I put it behind me as I tried out for the 2001 Games. I made the Australian netball team! I spent the next 4 years training again, almost every day for the Games with my incredibly talented and amazing team. We were damn good too.
Just before the Games came a massive debate that tore at the hearts of the Australian sporting teams, about whether to boycott the Games until compensation for the families was secured or play in the memory of those we lost. I advocated to fly to Israel as a team and play. I strongly believed that playing was the best way to uphold our lost athlete’s memories. I lost. I was completely devastated. After 4 years of training, we never got on that plane.
18 years later I am in Israel. I just happened to be here in July. As much as I have ignored and suppressed my emotions on this topic, I just had to come out to watch the netball team in the 2017 Games.
So here I am about to watch the grand final of Australia v Great Britain. I am sitting outside, mostly trying not to cry and mostly not succeeding. I’m not sure how I’m going to watch this match but I will because I will always love Maccabi and forever be a netballer. I have been a player, the President of the club and even helped train the Israeli squad train in 2004.I am outside, crying, as I prepare to head in and cheer the Aussies on. Go Australia!
Afterword: I wrote this post above and put in on facebook whilst sitting outside the stadium in tears. I felt it was finally time to ‘go public.’ I don’t know why. I just felt I couldn’t hold it in anymore. So many people were effected by this bridge disaster. I always felt embarrassed to talk about it because it was not me on that bridge, nor my brother, sister, mother or father. I felt other’s emotions were more valid than mine.
If you ever saw the footage, it was simply horrific, terrifying and chaotic. Knowing you know everyone there, but knowing nothing else, forever changed the way I view the news and the world.
I immediately received responses from my post from so many different people; from one of my oldest netball coaches from when I was a child and from friends who had never heard of this sport. The messages from my old team mates at the time got to me. Words of understanding, love and support.
I dried my eyes and entered the arena.
Who did I see? Two of my team mates from 2001. Standing right there! I held it together for a second, until one of them hugged me. She had seen my post already. And that was it, I burst out crying on her shoulder, right there at The Games, in the stadium in front of everyone, including the former President from my day. I knew everyone, and they all knew me – as a player, as a coach, as the former-President and hopefully … as a champion.