A South Florida man who suffered spinal injuries as a 24-year-old will be among the 72 disabled athletes affiliated with the Florida branch of Achilles International who will compete in the 2018 Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon.
Palmetto Bay’s Miki Erez was injured while serving in the Israeli Air Force during the 1973 Yom Kippur War The Achilles organization, with 65 chapters in the United States, encourages the disabled to participate in mainstream athletics and this is the second largest contingent of Achilles athletes in the history of the Fitbit Miami Marathon And Half Marathon.
A member of an Israeli helicopter squadron, Erez underwent three spinal operations during an 18-month military hospital stay.
It’s been more than 40 years since the accident, but he has never let his disability stop him from enjoying a full life. At age 66, his level of physical activity would put most able-bodied individuals to shame.
Erez works out every day at the local gym, and then later at home where he trains using fitness equipment he created for wheelchair-bound athletes. He practices three times a week with the Miami Heat Wheels basketball team where he’s been a team member for the last eight years.
“I like to be active,” he said. “After my injury, I started swimming and then playing basketball.”
Erez took up hand-cycling when a Wheels’ teammate introduced him to former South Florida Achilles regional director Chris Holcomb.
“He was supportive even when I didn’t have my own hand-cycle,” says Erez, who has now completed nine marathons. “I used his hand-cycle for my first two marathons.
“I like the activity because it is different than basketball. It takes discipline to go out and train. It’s not a team sport, it’s individual.”
A pair of visits to the United States gave Erez his first glimpse of America several years after his accident. The first came in 1976, and he returned in 1979 with the Israeli disabled veterans delegate team to honor American disabled vets.
He moved to the US permanently in 1980.
“I liked what I saw,” he said. “Miami is similar to the climate in Israel. I loved American helicopters. I loved the people and the culture. I decided to be here – the opportunities that I saw.”
Erez has taken advantage of the opportunity to be a visionary for the disabled, creating Wheelchair Fitness Solution, a revolutionary home training system for wheelchair users.
“It is important to be physically fit,” he says. “You can function in your daily life when you are strong and fit—when you can handle your body weight. It’s the first steps to a rehabilitation.”
Erez took from his own experiences to create the equipment that offers more than 30 exercises to help build strength.
“The machine helps people who have recently become disabled to live with a new physical reality,” he says. “No one is born knowing how to be disabled.”
Erez, now a US citizen, is active in the SCI (spinal cord injury) community and attends support groups with the Veterans Administration.
He is a father of five and grandfather of one, and has been happily married for 32 years.
“She is the power behind my activity,” says Erez of his wife, Lissette. “She supports me, and travels with me through all the activities. Without her I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do.”