Sun Sentinel / Jewish Journal : "Athlete overcomes stroke to compete for Israel in skeleton sport"

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Athlete overcomes stroke to compete for Israel in skeleton sport

Six years after suffering a minor stroke, Jared Firestone of Hollywood is thankful he has the opportunity to begin competing internationally for Israel in the winter sliding sport skeleton in November.

Although he was born in Miami and grew up in Hollywood, Firestone, 29, applied for Israeli citizenship and formally joined the Israel Bobsled & Skeleton Federation in April. Ever since, he have been more inspired and motivated than ever to represent Israel in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

“Being Jewish myself and having Israel being our homeland is something I’ve always had a lot of pride in. I felt that was important. I definitely had that pride from my high school experiences that included going on the March of the Living in 2008 and visiting the sites of concentration camps and learning about the history of what happened in Europe during the Holocaust. Going to Israel on the second half of trip gave me a much bigger appreciation for Israel. I decided that I wanted to do my part a little more. It took me a while to figure out what that would be, but eventually I did it.”

Firestone said he was always involved in athletics and his local Jewish community while growing up. He attended Scheck Hillel Community School in North Miami Beach from kindergarten to eighth grade and then Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale for high school where he discovered his talent and love for track and field as he went on to win a district championship in the 100-meter dash and set several school records. It was also around that time where he saw the Steven Spielberg film “Munich,” which details the massacre of 11 Jewish athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games. The film impacted him greatly due to his connection to Israel and the Jewish people, and it made him realize that as an athlete, competing for Israel would be a most fitting platform to do just that, while also honoring the 11 athletes who were killed in Munich.

Firestone had a track career at Tulane University. Following that, he began studying at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. However, in his first semester there in the fall of 2013, he suffered a a minor stroke called Transient Ischemic Attack.

“As it was happening, it took me a while to realize what it was,” Firestone said regarding the stroke. “It’s not something you really think about at age 23. Luckily my dad is a doctor. However, even after it passed, in the immediate time after, there was a period where I couldn’t do anything while they figured out what was going on with me and what caused it. I think there was about two months where I wasn’t sure I would be able to play sports again or work out again or lift weights again. During that time I decided that if I get that opportunity again, I’m going to take more advantage of doing what I love, which is competing and playing sports.”

While recovering from this stroke, he discovered the sport of skeleton during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Shortly thereafter, he found himself at a sliding school in Lake Placid, NY. Upon graduating from law school, he took both the Florida and New York State Bar exams to complete his legal education. He then joined the Team USA Skeleton Developmental Program full-time. After three seasons in the USA program, he knew he was ready to represent Israel.

“This is my fourth year in the sport, but my first year doing it with Israel, and because of my faith and my pride in Israel, It 's so much easier now for me to wake up every day and go train twice a day and spend all the money on the training and the equipment that I need,” he said. “When I’m doing this for Israel, I’m doing it for the Jewish people, and that makes it so much easier.”

David Greaves, president of Israel’s Bobsled/Skeleton Federation, complimented Firestone’s athletic background.

“He comes to us with a pretty impressive sprint background. He’s probably our first and only true sprinter. He comes from a track and field background and we’ve never had an athlete like that before competing for us, so we’re excited about that. As he was part of the U.S. development program, he’s not learning this sport, so he’s actually ready to jump in and compete. We’re super pleased.”

Rabbi Ian Silverman of the the Shul of Harbor Islands in Hollywood, who has known Firestone since he was a young boy, said, “He’s a very exemplarily young man in that he has this great spirit and great idealism to go and represent Israel.”

Firestone spends the off-season training in South Florida while also working in real estate sales.

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