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Israeli lesbian rower Moran Samuel set to be a force in Paralympics

Moran Samuel, a 2015 World Rowing Champion, hopes to bring gold back home for her wife and Team Israel.

Detlev Syeb

Openly lesbian Israeli rower Moran Samuel is a force to be reckoned with in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

Samuel plans to contend for medals in the women's arms and shoulders single sculls event. In 2012, she burst onto the scene with an impressive fifth place victory at the London Paralympic games. She was just one second shy of a bronze medal.

"I was a very young rower in London," Samuel said. "I didn't have the experience of training and competitions that I have now. I did the best race I could do there, and I plan to do the same in Rio."

With her trademark determination, Moran then trained steadily at the Daniel Rowing Center in Tel Aviv with laser focus on reaching the 2016 Paralympic Games. She earned a berth to the games by winning the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Lac d'Aiguebelette, France.

Moran is now in Rio with her wife, Limor Samuel Goldberg, and their six-month old son, Arad. While balancing the demands of motherhood and an Olympic training schedule are challenging, the family pulls this off with admirable teamwork.

"Limor comes from this world of sport, being a swimmer in her past and working now for the Israeli Paralympic committee, so she understands my needs and can support me," Samuel said.

Even her young son helps out in his own way.

"Arad is an amazing baby. He knows I need to sleep well so I can perform my best," Samuel laughed.

In the months leading up to Rio the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Italy while Moran trained on Lake Varese. She credits her success with being dedicated to success.

"When I am at home I give 100% to my family, and when I train I do the same," Samuel said. "There are limited resources so I have learned to focus on something and not get distracted."

Rowing was not Moran's first love. Before her rowing career, she was a standout member of the Israeli National Women's Basketball team. In 2006, at the age of 24, her life changed forever when she suffered a rare spinal stroke. Moran recalled that she was hanging laundry one minute, and then the next minute she felt a sharp pain in her back and couldn't breathe. Moran's lower body was paralyzed.

Fortunately, there were still options for her to pursue the sport she loved. After a lengthy rehab, Moran joined the burgeoning Israeli national women's wheelchair basketball team. She also played on the Israeli all-male team Beit HaLohem.

Although Moran's heart was in basketball, she was told that succeed as an elite world athlete, she would have to try a solo sport. In 2010 she started rowing at Limor's insistence. She soon became hooked. Limor was also a rower and thought that Moran would take to the sport well. She was right.  Moran has shown outstanding talent and was selected as the 2015 World Rowing Para Athlete of the Year.

"I've learned to push my limits and not be afraid of dreaming big dreams,€” even if they don't all come true," Samuel said. "The only way to improve is by making mistakes -€” by failing, and then overcoming those failures."

She also added that she's learned to never compare herself to others.

"I compare myself to me if I want to get better," she said.

When asked whether she saw herself as a role model, Moran said she hopes she "can make people become their own role models, because even the most amazing story in the world will not help you to overcome difficulties in life if you don't realize the strength lies in you."

Moran pointed out that disabled athletes are often reduced to being one-dimensional, purely inspirational stories. She€” and other people with disabilities are much more than simply an inspiration.

"There's a lot more in my toolbox."

Moran said she hasn't faced any discrimination being an openly gay athlete on the international stage.

"I'm lucky in that manner because everywhere we go, people just take it as it is," Samuel said. "If people think differently, they have never showed it or expressed it to our face."

While the Paralympic Games begin Sept. 7, Moran Samuel's competition begins Sept. 9.

Ronit Bezalel can be reached at rbezalel@gmail.com.