Asaf Yasur lost both of his hands in a freak electrocution accident when he was only 12 years old.
It was a regular day, like any other. He and his friends were playing in their neighborhood in northern Israel, kicking a ball up and down the street in front of their homes. When the ball bounced off the road, landing on the other side of a chain link fence, Yasur went to get it. But he was unaware that 23,000 volts of electricity were running through the fence wire until he touched it. By then it was too late for him to pull away.
Trying to recover from a severe injury and learning to live without hands, something most people take for granted, is no easy feat, no less for a child. Yasur was in hospital for eight months and underwent 15 surgeries. Although it took time for him to rehabilitate and come to terms with his sudden disability, he did not let it damage his spirit.
Yasur, now 19, says the accident that took his hands allowed him to envision himself as the next world champion of Taekwondo.
For the past six years he has received training in the Korean martial art, accumulating awards along the way, apparently all in preparation for this summer, when he is expected to make his Olympic debut.
TBS eFM New's Hyoung-joo Choi spoke to Yasur about his journey to becoming Israel's first Para taekwondo athlete.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Q: You are the first Israeli Para taekwondo athlete. How did you get started in taekwondo?
Since I was little I've loved sports. After my injury, I watched taekwondo and found that it's something that can help me get through the injury and help me recover. The first time I visited the national team [training center in Tel Aviv] it was just to watch, not to train. I felt the energy among the athletes and coaches and connected to it. The energy was very good. I think taekwondo gives you a lot of things in life -- discipline and hard work. If you have a target you work hard. You get disciplined and you work on your target. I fell in love with taekwondo.Q: It must have been quite difficult right after the accident. How did you manage to pull through?A:
I did not just sleep in bed and think about the accident and the injury. I did not hear about what I can't do. I always look forward. After the accident, I'd always tell myself, 'Never mind. I can get through it. I can work. I can do everything I want.' My high spirits come from my parents, friends and all the people in Israel. They are very supportive. It's one of the things that helps me fight in the competitions. I did not think that my life would just stop and I would not be able to do other stuff. I always thought that I could overcome this accident.
I'm the only one in Israel who does Para taekwondo. So, it feels amazing because it's like I'm the first one in something like this. Kids who had an injury like me talk to me and ask me about how I did it. I always tell them it's taekwondo and it's something that can help everyone. It feels great. It's a sport that gives me a smile on my face.Q: So how have you been preparing for the Tokyo Paralympics? Are you facing any extra challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic? A:
Last year was very tough. I had no competitions. Training stopped. We went back home and trained on our own. But slowly we came back to the training and it was very hard. I did not compete for like a year, so it was very difficult. Now, I look forward to the next competition, for Tokyo. In sports, financial sponsorships are big things for professional athletes. I had to move to central Israel due to the training, while my family lives in the north, so there are people who help me and sponsor me.Q: What are your dreams? What do you hope to achieve in your life?
My big dream or target is the Olympics, first. I train for that and I want to be the Olympic champion. Right now, this is the goal. This is the target. It's my very big dream. When I was in the hospital after [my] accident a lot of people came to the hospital and they gave me good energy to keep working and get through it. I'm thinking about giving that energy to others and other people in Israel. There are kids in Israel who've had the same accident, so I'd like to go and help them achieve their goals and dreams.
For the last two years, I went to schools, high schools, workplaces and shared my story with people. I tell them about my accident and things that helped me go out after the accident. I think the main message that I want to give to others is that if something really bad happens in life, like an accident or something like this, there's always other ways to do things. There're always other ways to keep going.